It is Time to End Immunity for Gun Manufacturers
By Lynn Shapiro, Staff Writer
The only way to ensure that gun dealers sell their pistols, rifles and semi-automatic weapons as safely as possible - especially after the mass shootings in Columbine and Sandy Hook, to name just two - is to repeal the federal gun law that affords gun manufacturers special legal immunity from responsibility for these crimes.
Enacted in 2005, this law was instituted after a wave of lawsuits put massive pressure on the gun industry. Instead of making guns safer, the industry turned to Congress for relief from prosecution.
Hillary Clinton Promised to Work for Repeal
The gun law is called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), legislation that Hillary Clinton promised to repeal during her 2016 campaign. However, our pro-gun President, Donald Trump, to say nothing of the Republican controlled Congress, supports immunity for gun manufacturers.
In 1998, New Orleans became the first city to file a lawsuit against gun manufacturers. More than 30 major American cities followed its lead. Other cases brought by individual victims of shootings began cycling their way through the state courts as well.
“The lawsuits generated evidence of severe problems with the distribution of guns, including undercover sting operations revealing how gun dealers knowingly allow people to make ‘straw purchases’ on behalf of convicted felons who cannot pass a background check,” writes Allen Rostron in a Newsweek story.
Reporters wrote a slew of stories about topics like “how gun companies boosted the lethality of their products to boost sales, how new technologies could make guns ‘personalized’ to prevent unauthorized use and what government data showed about the illegal market for guns,” Rostron writes.
Grave Consequences in California
States have also enacted gun laws giving the industry immunity. California enacted a gun industry immunity law in 1983. Years later, a mentally-ill gunman attacked eight people in a mass shooting at a San Francisco law firm.
The killer used a pair of TEC-9 assault pistols, known for being designed and marketed in ways that appealed to criminals, according to Rostron.
“Legislators in California were appalled and soon repealed the law, replacing it with a measure stating that those who design, distribute and market firearms have no special exemption from the normal legal duty to exercise ordinary care.
“California’s decision unfortunately became a moot point a few years later when Congress gave immunity to the gun industry on a nationwide basis,” Rostron writes.
The Federal measure bars almost every lawsuit against a gun manufacturer or distributor for failing to take responsible action to minimize the risk of criminal misuse of its products, such as requiring greater scrutiny of the retail dealers selling its firearms.
Deranged Girl Kills Her Father; Missouri Rules for Plaintiff
The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled a mother can sue a pawn shop for selling her mentally-ill daughter a gun used to fatally shoot her father.
Colby Sue Weathers had a history of schizophrenia and substance abuse. She’s now in a state mental institution, according to the Associated Press.
She heard voices and believed she was being controlled by a computer chip implanted in her nose. She walked into a gun shop in May 2012, and despite her dangerous mental condition, the gun shop owner put a weapon in her hands.
She planned to kill herself, but changed her mind and gave the gun to her parents. A few weeks later, Colby’s mother called the gun shop, told them of Colby’s mental issues and pleaded with them not to sell another gun to her daughter.
She specifically told the store that Colby would soon be receiving a Social Security check and might use the money to buy another gun.
The gun-shop salesperson could have refused to sell a gun to this dangerously-ill woman, but he or she refused to listen to the pleas of a desperate mother.
Two days later, Colby walked into the shop, bought a gun and then went home and used the gun to kill her father.
Colby’s mother sued the Odessa Gun & Pawn shop for negligently selling the gun to her daughter, despite being warned.
“But for the case to have any chance of succeeding, lawyers bringing it had to try to squeeze it into one of the narrow categories of claims that the Federal law allows against gun dealers,” Rostron writes.
Before Weathers’ mother won the Supreme Court suit, it was thrown out on the grounds that all of the legal theories asserted in the case are either barred by the federal statute or not recognized under Missouri law.
With deadly shootings by deranged people on the rise, Congress should reconsider its capricious decision to give the gun industry special immunity from legal responsibility.
Ultimately Safer Products
“The immunity from accountability that the law grants the firearms industry can contribute to illegal gun sales, negligent marketing, and failure to apply safer design choices,” according to Wikipedia
Product Liability Rights.
If a product is sold with inadequate instructions or warnings, with a design or marketing flaw that may cause injury, or sold to a mentally-ill individual or one who fails a background check, one has the right to file a lawsuit against a manufacturer or retailer.
However, the vast majority of killings are not committed as a result of faulty design or inadequate instructions. They’re committed by mentally unstable people or criminals who never should carry guns in the first place.
This is not a Second Amendment issue. US citizens have the right to bear arms. It is a safety issue. While there are some legitimate reasons for providing limited immunity to gun manufacturers, the net effect of the federal immunity law has been to eliminate a major incentive for manufacturers to make safer products. At a minimum the law should be modified in a way that encourages manufacturers to make their guns safer and does not protect them from liability when they fail to do so.