CHRIS POWELL: Newtown dumps democracy, and Lamont worsens scandal

Published on Wednesday, 23 February 2022 21:36

Whatever one thinks about guns, this month's $73 million lawsuit settlement paid by the insurers of the former Remington gun manufacturing company to the families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown is based on a false premise pursuing an unconstitutional objective.

Federal law exempts firearms manufacturers from liability for criminal misuse of their products. The Second Amendment establishes the right of the people to own guns. So how could Remington be responsible for the massacre in Newtown?

The company wasn't found responsible in court. Instead, its insurers settled the case without explanation.

The theory of the plaintiffs was that Remington violated Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Act with its advertising for the rifle used in the massacre, advertising that was said to have appealed to disturbed young men like the massacre's perpetrator.

But there is no evidence that the perpetrator here ever saw any Remington advertising. Indeed, he didn't even purchase the rifle. That was done by his mother, who, despite her son's longstanding mental illness, took him target shooting and built his interest in guns. On the murderous day he stole her rifle and made her his first victim.

Of course, the plaintiffs themselves don't believe that Remington's advertising caused the massacre. They were not seeking to regulate gun ads but to close down the entire gun industry.

When the settlement was announced, co-plaintiff Nicole Hockley was candid about it. She said that the lawsuit and settlement had shown gun makers, their insurers, and their bankers that "this is a high-risk market, it is not profitable, and you will be held accountable."

Deprive any industry of its bankers and insurers and it will go out of business or go underground. When the gun industry goes out of business or underground, the Second Amendment will have been nullified without any democratic decision of the people and the states to repeal or modify it.

Everyone sympathizes with the families of the massacre victims. Many people support enacting more restrictive gun laws. Like the Newtown plaintiffs, some people would even repeal the Second Amendment and confiscate all guns in private hands. But if the Newtown plaintiffs get their way, they will destroy not only the gun industry but democracy as well.

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Governor Lamont has a worsening scandal on his hands – a budget office that was a contract-steering racket undermining competitive bidding for state government work.

Remarkably, the governor would make it worse. He wants to cripple – or keep crippled – the state Contracting Standards Board, which was created in response to the contract scandals of the Rowland administration two decades ago.

The board operates with a few volunteer members. Lamont not only refuses to appropriate money to hire staff for the board to make it effective; he also would eliminate its authority to block contracts it deems improper.

The governor says the board should refer to the state auditors any doubts it has about contracts. But the auditors aren't well-staffed either and have no enforcement powers. They can only publicize mistakes and improprieties.

The governor's budget would add three positions to the staff of the auditors. But since there is so little accountability in state government and since the General Assembly eliminated its Program Review and Investigations Committee years ago and investigates nothing about state government operations, the auditors should be given more than another three positions.

In his campaign commercials the likely Republican nominee for governor, Bob Stefanowski, proposes to audit every state government department. That can't be effective and timely without hiring many more auditors – and even auditing every department won't audit what most needs to be audited about state government. What most needs auditing are state government's most expensive policies, which, no matter how honestly implemented, often fail to accomplish what they are supposed to, like self-sufficiency for the poor and academic proficiency for high school students.

If the governor really thinks state government is already as efficient and honest as it should be, his premise should be put to the campaign ahead.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Wednesday, 23 February 2022 21:36. Updated: Wednesday, 23 February 2022 21:38.