Four pro-gun control Democrats yesterday announced legislation aimed at removing protections for firearms manufacturers and dealers from junk lawsuits, claiming that the 2005 “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act” (PLCAA) made gun companies “immune from lawsuits.”
Backing the measure are Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and California Rep. Adam Schiff, according to a press release from Van Hollen’s office. “The bill will ensure that victims of gun violence are allowed to have their day in court, and that the gun industry – manufacturers, sellers and interest groups – is not shielded from liability when it acts with negligence and disregard for public safety,” the release asserted.
But that’s not true, according to Steve Sanetti, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry umbrella group. Last week, during his annual “State of the Industry” speech at a dinner on opening night of the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, Sanetti said no such immunity exists for negligence or knowingly selling guns to prohibited persons.
“Some falsely claim that our industry is ‘totally immune from liability, unlike any other’,” Sanetti said at about nine minutes into his speech, which may be viewed here. “That’s just not true – firearms come under exactly the same product liability laws for defective products as any other consumer product. And as you know, if a retailer knowingly sells a firearm to anyone not legally qualified to buy it, they can lose their license, pay a stiff fine, and go to jail for up to 10 years. It’s the law.”
PLCAA was passed more than ten years ago to stop the filing of what critics say amounted to harassment and “junk” lawsuits by anti-gun municipalities. A series of lawsuits, beginning in 1999, cost the industry millions of dollars to defend. Those lawsuits typically sought to hold gun makers responsible for criminal or negligent acts committed by people with firearms. It appeared that anti-gunners were attempting to bankrupt the firearms industry by lawsuit attrition.
Thus came the PLCAA, but according to the JDSupra Business Advisor, “Despite the statements by some political candidates, the PLCAA provides protection for firearms industry members for only a limited category of lawsuits. No blanket immunity can be found in the PLCAA.”
As gun control continues to be a hot political issue, the rhetoric is ramping up almost daily. Yesterday, the repackaged “Alliance for Gun Responsibility” (AGR) sent an e-mail declaring that Initiative 594, the so-called “universal background check” measure passed in 2014, had blocked “more than 100 ineligible sales” of firearms out of 5,300-plus private-sale background checks last year. The message gasped, “Those are gun sales that likely would have gone through without our law in place. Those are guns that could have wound up in the wrong hands. Guns that could have been used in murders, burglaries, suicides, or mass shootings.”
But where are the 100-plus prosecutions, one activist wondered in a note to this column. “Show me 100 prosecutions,” the activist wrote, “or it didn’t happen.”
That may be a fair point, considering that gun prosecutions have declined under the Obama administration, according to a Dec. 31 report by the Washington Times. Referring to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, the newspaper reported that convictions in gun cases peaked a decade ago at 9,206 but had dropped to 6,002 by fiscal year 2015.
There is no indication from AGR that the people who unsuccessfully tried to purchase firearms didn’t ultimately get their hands on one, nor is there any proof that these would-be purchasers intended to commit any of the crimes mentioned. Burglaries are usually committed in order to illegally obtain guns (not the other way around), and nearly all of the recent high-profile mass shootings were committed by people who had passed background checks.
Whether yesterday’s “Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act” stands a chance of passing is debatable. That it was unveiled by Capitol Hill anti-gunners on the eve of tonight’s final Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses isn’t surprising. It creates one more item with which candidates might be challenged in a process that has put guns front and center in the political spotlight, which is where some Second Amendment activists believe it always should be.
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