Too Late: Regulating in a Crisis

Four days after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the National Rifle Association responded by saying it would agree to additional regulation. 

A new law is often one of the first reactions of the federal government in the immediate aftermath of a deadly crisis, while the goal of regulators is to prevent a crisis in the first place. 

NRA said in a statement that it was calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to immediately review whether bump fire stocks, a part that attaches to a gun, comply with federal law. 

“The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations,” the statement said. 


 Regulating after a crisis gives leverage to the regulator, not the industry. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for example, is now reconsidering the extent to which auto manufacturers should be required to notify the agency of safety-related defects. 

Presently, NHTSA is overseeing recalls of “unprecedented complexity” involving Takata air bag inflators, the agency’s notice said. 

Takata air bags, which are installed in tens of millions of U.S. vehicles, are subject to recall due to a safety defect that may cause the air bag inflators to explode and cause serious injury or death. 

The public expects that the products they are buying on store shelves are actually safe and that the government is protecting them, said Pamela Gilbert, former executive director of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

“Likewise, American businesses also rely on the regulatory system, because they know that’s what puts confidence by the consumer in the products that they’re going to go and buy,” Gilbert said at a panel discussion in August. 

When industry resists regulation, the public doesn’t know there’s a problem and it doesn’t hit the newspaper unless there’s a crisis, Gilbert said. 

“But what happens if you wait for the crisis, is that you’re actually regulating after people have died,” Gilbert said. 

“What the regulatory system is supposed to do is to try to prevent those deaths and injuries from happening,” she said.