Can I Sell a Product that Could Kill Someone?
Guns kill innocent people every day, and gun dealers should be held responsible for those deaths.
Whether this is a Q1 violation depends in part on what products you think qualify as so dangerous that anyone selling them should be liable, and whether you would always condemn someone selling such a product.
This is a Q2 violation if you would object to someone holding you responsible for selling a product if they were using the same justification you use for holding gun dealers responsible.
It is clearly a Q2 violation to hold anyone who sells any product that causes harm responsible for that harm. To do so would be to invite an unreasonable amount of liability whenever you sold something. For example, if you sold an old car, you would not want to be responsible if the vehicle’s new owner had a traffic accident.
What if you only hold responsible those who sell a product with the knowledge that the product could or would intentionally be used to cause harm? If you require definite proof of this knowledge, it may be difficult to come by. If, on the other hand, you feel morally justified in inferring the knowledge, this may be a Q2 violation. For example, what if a gun dealer says that he only sells weapons to be used in self-defense? Would you assume he’s not telling the truth? What about a gun dealer who only sells weapons to police officers, but who lives in a town where there have been complaints that the police are using their weapons too often? Would you hold a gun dealer responsible for the use of weapons purchased by the military? If the military were currently involved in what you consider an immoral war, would that make a difference?
Aside from guns, what other products should bring moral responsibility to their sellers? Which of these companies or individuals do you think should be responsible for what they are selling?
- An author whose book shows how you can set up burglar-harming booby traps in your home.
- Someone who sells spray paint in a neighborhood with a graffiti problem.
- A purveyor of sports equipment whose baseball bats are used during a riot. What if he sold bats during the riot?
- A manufacturer of land mines who has read reliable reports that land mines are more likely to kill civilians than enemy combatants.
- The seller of a key-ring fob that looks like a little statue of an animal but is pointy enough at one end that it could be used as a weapon. Would it make a difference if the fob’s manufacturer specifically designed the item as a potential weapon, even though it’s not advertised as such?
- A bartender whose customer has a drunk-driving accident on the way home.
- A food manufacturer who sells food that has peanuts in it, even though some people are deathly allergic to peanuts.
- The seller of an aerosol cleaner that teenagers sometimes "huff" to get high, when it’s known that the practice can lead to death.
- The manufacturer of a chemical that can be used either in construction or in making illegal drugs who sells ten times more of the chemical than could possibly be used in construction.
- Cigarette manufacturers who only sell their products to adults who make a free choice to smoke. What if the cigarette company has engaged in deceptive advertising, making it difficult for people to make an informed decision on the subject?
- A gun dealer who sells a gun that is later stolen from the original purchaser and used to commit a murder.
- A gun dealer who sells a gun to a woman who says her husband is abusing her.
- A gun dealer who sells a gun to a man who says he’s suicidal.
- A dealer who sells guns, but not ammunition.
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.