New York City Mayor Eric Adams, New York City Corporation Counsel Sylvia Hinds-Radix, and New York Attorney General Letitia James recently announced federal lawsuits against companies that sell gun component parts. Their beef is that these retailers distributed parts that people can use to assemble untraceable firearms, also known as “ghost guns.” The fact that New York public officials decided to ban (via a law that took effect in February 2020) something that does not hurt anyone, and subsequently to file a lawsuit against companies that did not hurt anyone, is immoral. And in their public comments, these officials made numerous false and illogical statements that demonstrate their incorrect understanding of morality, justice, and rights.
In his public statement announcing the unjust lawsuit, Adams said: “Whether they are hidden in the trunks of cars or packed in a plain brown box, ghost guns are illegal in our city, and we will take every lawful action possible to stop gun retailers from profiting at the expense of the safety of our city… We will not stand by while illegal operators flout the law, endanger our communities, and kill our young people.”
But companies that make ghost gun parts do not “kill our young people.” The people who fatally shoot people are the ones who kill those people, not the companies that make the guns (or the parts used to make the guns). I’m also not sure why Adams chose to mention the age of the people that he falsely accuses companies of killing. Age is not a morally relevant characteristic. Would Adams consider it less problematic if the people being killed were old?
Hinds-Radix said: “Sadly, people in our city, including children, have been shot or killed with ghost guns… The companies should be forced to assist the city in recovering illegal, untraceable ghost guns they delivered here.”
The same point about age not being a morally relevant characteristic also applies here. Why mention that some of the people killed were children? But more importantly, there is no reason why companies should be forced to assist the city in recovering ghost guns. Ghost guns do not hurt anyone; it is the people who shoot other people who hurt people. Companies who sell the parts used to make ghost guns are not doing anything wrong. Therefore, they shouldn’t be forced to do anything. It is the people who choose to shoot other people, not the companies that sell component parts, that should be punished.
New York Sheriff Anthony Miranda announced his intention to “hold these retailers accountable for willfully endangering the health and well-being of New Yorkers.”
But the retailers did not do anything wrong. People who shoot other people, not the retailers that sell component parts, are the ones who have done something wrong and therefore should be held accountable. It is unjust for companies to be held accountable for something that they did not do.
Attorney General James stated: “While families mourned loved ones lost to senseless gun violence, gun sellers avoided accountability for the illegal and dangerous weapons they sold. There should be no more immunity for gun distributors bringing harm and havoc to New York. My office’s lawsuit holds 10 gun sellers accountable for fueling the gun violence crisis and endangering New Yorkers. Illegal guns do not belong on our streets or in our communities and we will use every tool necessary to root them out.”
I’m not sure why James considers it a bad thing for gun sellers to avoid accountability, given that they have not done anything wrong. For the same reason, I’m not sure why she thinks that there should be “no more immunity for gun distributors.” If a party or entity hasn’t done anything wrong, then immunity is exactly what they should have, and avoiding accountability is exactly what should happen.
In addition to the mistaken idea that gun distributors should be held accountable for other people’s actions, another thing that strikes me about these statements is their emphasis on safety and communalism, and their complete disregard for the rights of individuals. There is no mention of individual rights, liberty, or freedom in any of these statements. Instead, the politicians go on and on about “the safety of our city” and “the health and well-being of New Yorkers.” They bemoan the fact that gun distributors “endanger our communities” and the “harm and havoc” that they bring. Again and again, they mention the impact on “communities,” “families,” and “loved ones,” as opposed to considering people as individuals.
If our leaders actually thought of people as individuals, as opposed to mere members of families and communities, they would realize that ghost guns are actually beneficial, rather than harmful. Because they are untraceable, ghost guns enable people to maintain privacy with regards to gun ownership. This is unequivocally a benefit to individuals. But, as is all too often the case, individual rights such as the right to privacy go completely unrecognized and disregarded by people who care only about safety, health, and the common good.
By criminalizing ghost guns, our society is taking away people’s right to maintain privacy with regards to gun ownership. Perhaps coincidentally and perhaps not, shortly after filing the ghost gun lawsuit, Adams announced a similar crackdown on “ghost cars” – cars that can’t be traced. These actions illustrate a trend towards treating privacy not as a fundamental right that should be protected, but instead as something that should be made illegal. And unlike ghost guns and ghost cars, disregard for privacy rights is truly harmful.