When Innovation Goes Wrong

American consumers rightly expect the quality and capability of consumer products to improve over time. This is true nearly across the board -- computers are faster and more powerful than ever, vehicles are safer and more fuel-efficient, televisions have wider screens and crisper pictures, and cell phones also function as cameras, calendars, and multimedia players.

But in the case of firearms, technological innovation (coupled with near unrestricted access) has had a grotesque side effect -- making it far easier for any disturbed individual to inflict mass casualties on unarmed civilians.

• In addition to bolt-action hunting rifles with low rates of fire, consumers have near unrestricted access to military-style assault weapons fully-equipped with flash suppressors, flashlight mounts, laser sites, and other combat-ready features.

• In addition to revolvers that hold a mere six rounds, consumers can purchase semi-automatic handguns accommodating high-capacity magazines, allowing a shooter to fire dozens of shots before reloading.

• To fill these weapons of mass destruction, consumers can purchase ammunition designed to maximize damage to soft tissue upon impact.

We cannot go back to a time before these weapons existed, and firearms that are currently legal will never become illegal to possess. But we can limit the types of military-style weapons and accessories that can be legally sold to civilian consumers in the future.

Reinstating the assault weapons ban and prohibiting high-capacity magazines is a start. By taking these products off the civilian market, we stop increasing the number of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines in circulation. This step would also make it impossible for disturbed individuals to openly purchase weaponry most efficient for killing. Just maybe, it would also make it more likely for bright minds in science and engineering to use their talents on research, inventions, and product innovations with more beneficial civilian applications.

The American free market is the most effective means ever created to spur innovation in consumer products. But in the case of firearms, the success of this innovation has had tragic consequences. If we do not restrict civilian access to weapons of war, we will have ourselves to blame when the next massacre occurs.


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