Barron: If the Government Cared About American Youth, It Would Ban Assault Weapons Before Juul Pens


(Courtesy Flickr)

By Morgan Barron, Opinion Writer

A few weekends ago, I went home for dinner and happened to sit at the table beside a family friend who is a practicing attorney. He asked about my classes and I asked about his family, but our conversation quickly turned to President Trump’s announcement on his administration’s move to ban flavored vape pods. I hadn’t been following the issue too closely, but I had read articles about the Texas teen with a mysterious lung illness doctors believe may be related to his vaping habit and I had, of course, seen the cheesy commercials with the tagline “No one knows the long term effects of Juuling, do you?”

My family friend, on the other hand, had meticulously kept up with developments in this story, from the CDC’s investigation into an epidemic of mystery lung illnesses — which had caused at least six deaths by then — to the FDA’s policy to enforce certain requirements for flavored e-cigarettes. He concluded that litigation would have an important role in holding the vaping industry responsible and he wanted to be a part of it. “I have spent my entire life defending organizations for the unknown consequences of their products, but Juul knew that their product was dangerous,” he said. “So, just for once, I want to be on the other side of the aisle, suing the vaping industry.”

Over the last month, I have considered the zeal in this friend’s eyes and the President’s comment that “We can’t allow people to get sick. And we can’t have our youth be so affected.” I have reached a conclusion of my own — I am really angry. Six deaths, each potentially caused by a personal decision to ingest a slurry of harmful chemicals, are a higher priority to the Trump Administration than the nearly 2,900 deaths of children and teens caused by gun violence every single year.

Politicians are jumping to address the deaths of six people from complications likely tied to their vaping habits, but have never moved so quickly to combat deaths from senseless gun violence. Moreover, they are not working to dismantle legislation like the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that protects firearms manufacturers and distributors from accountability by preventing litigation for damages “resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse” of their products. The President and Congress are willing to consider scientific studies that have previously suggested that vaping can cause damage to the human body, but have frozen CDC research of the public safety issue that is gun violence.

There has long been established a pattern of school shootings in the United States, giving places like Columbine, Newtown and Parkland infamous and tragic name recognition. There has also been a long-established pattern for how American politicians react to these tragedies — through their thoughts, prayers and inaction. While the Trump Administration claims to be advocates for American children, they are hardly bringing anything new to the table — no meaningful gun restriction legislation has been federally enacted in 25 years. President Trump himself has stated that there is no “political appetite” to protect children from school shootings through a ban on assault weapons, despite the bipartisan support for such a ban among voters. By instead focusing on the need for “very strong action” on vaping, Trump is allowing “harm to innocent children” as an American student is over 400% more likely to be killed by a gun than by a vape pen.

The PLCAA provides the gun industry with almost blanket immunity from civil liability. While Juul is currently being sued on behalf of those who have fallen ill after vaping despite claims that vaping was a safe alternative, most victims of gun violence have no recourse through the manufacturer. As long as the manufacturer followed all regulations during the sale and did not know that gun would be utilized to commit a crime, they cannot be held liable.

According to the Gabby Giffords Law Center, the PLCAA prevents lawsuits to hold the industry accountable for irresponsible marketing of military equipment to civilians and for flooding the market with firearms that benefit the illegal secondary market for firearms. The PLCAA puts all Americans at risk, as it does not incentivize ethical behavior nor does it penalize unethical behavior in the gun industry. By only punishing manufacturers and dealers who expressly break federal or state laws, the PLCAA is completely ineffective, and American children pay the cost.

I have no issue with the implementation of policies to protect young peoples’ health, like banning flavored vape pods, nor do I have an issue with educating people about the potential health risks of vaping. However, claiming to be concerned about the safety of America’s youth while doing nothing to address America’s gun violence epidemic is disingenuous. Juul pods appear to be the new “Tide pods,” an issue that impacts very few Americans but causes the adults in power to fixate upon solving it while ignoring the very real dangers America’s youth currently face.

American children need federal firearm regulation reform to prohibit assault weapon sales, implement red flag laws and ban bump stocks. Additionally, youth can be better protected by repealing PLCAA as opening gun manufacturers and dealers to liability can curtail irresponsible behavior and promote accountability in the industry. It should go unsaid, but American children should not avoid lung illness only to die in a preventable shooting.


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