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Is Business Culpable for Sandy Hook?

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In the tremendous sadness, shock, outrage, and political positioning that is occurring around the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, there is the search for explanation as to how it could have happened, who is to blame, what we could have done to prevent it, etc. At some point in these tragedies, businesses will come under scrutiny and fingers will be pointed in their direction.

Manufacturers

One of the targets will surely be the manufacturers of weapons, firearms, guns, etc.  There will be focus on the responsibility manufacturers have in producing, creating, advertising, and marketing products that are in any way involved in deaths, sickness, and/or injury. On the one hand, there are those that will claim that the market regulates itself and that it is up to the consumer to make an informed decision (as long as the manufacturer does not withhold information that could or would influence the decision of the consumer).  So, in the instance of firearms, cigarettes, aclcohol, and other products – the belief is that the manufacturer’s responsibility begins and ends with full disclosure and compliance with applicable laws.  So, as long as the product performs as it should (not engineered poorly, does not include tainted ingredients, or other issues that are hidden from the consumer’s ability to reasonably assess or anticipate), the product has the right to be sold and purchased in a free market environment.

Of course, the opposing view is that manufacturers have a responsibility to not produce products that are known (or some would go further still, and say that the standard is to not produce products that MAY be known) to have potential deleterious effects.  Of course, there is a slippery slope argument that is opened when looking at the interaction between products and harmful outcomes.

  • Should Mayor Bloomberg and New York City’s ban on large carbonated soft drinks be enacted more universally because of societal obesity and diabetes issues?
  • Do manufacturers of powdered milk products have a responsibility if the products are misused and mixed with unsanitary water?  Should they be prohibited from selling the product in those markets without reliably clean water?
  • Should cars be manufactured to NOT exceed speeds beyond the speed limit because some drivers choose to drive too quickly?  Should cars only be able to be started if the driver can pass a breathalyzer?
  • And on and on.

Retailers

Of course, beyond just the manufacturers’ responsibility, the retailers that sell products will also be under the microscope for selling and distributing the products.  Does a retailer have responsibility for what a shopper does after the product is purchased?

  • Does the video game retailer have liability for a student’s poor grades due to excessive playing leading to a lack of studying time devoted to schoolwork?
  • Should a retailer be held responsible for selling ice cream if the shopper misues or abuses the product and gains weight to the point of illness or disease?
  • The examples can be applied to: Liquor Stores, DIY/hardware stores, Drug Stores, etc.

While the discussion will be heated as it pertains to firearms and will be rather emotional given the passions people feel for the issue now impacting our own neighbors in our community; there is a discussion that looms ahead that we will need to have and resolve.  What role does business have in these tragedies?  Is business morally neutral?  Should business lead the discussion or merely respond to it?

Does the shopper, manufacturer, or retailer have the responsibility for outcomes?

David Zahn

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