Perhaps it’s time to go after the gun lobby with the tool they fear the most: the courts. Gun manufacturers and gun dealers have special immunity from lawsuits thanks to a National Rifle Association (NRA) sponsored bill they rammed through Congress in 2005. Following the passage of the lawsuit shield law, Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), NRA Spokesman Wayne LaPierre said that it was critical to keep the gun industry solvent.
“It’s the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in 20 years,” said LaPierre.
It was an admission that the threat of liability lawsuits could severely limit and damage the gun industry. It was also an admission that they can’t defend their products in the court of public opinion. They required congress to exempt them with special protections because they knew consumers could and would bring lawsuits. They knew the courts could force them to accept restrictions on their products just as every other business must bend to the will of the public.
Advocates of gun safety measures have attempted various approaches, but all have failed. The latest hope that actual gun control measures might be achievable came from the student-led March for Our Lives, but it seems to be fading just as others have in the past. Repealing the gun industry’s exclusive and unjustifiable immunity protections would allow consumers to use the courts to fight back. It would level the playing field by giving the public a voice in demanding greater gun safety measures.
No other product or industry has been given such extraordinary immunity from consumer lawsuits as the gun industry. The public has the right to sue nearly any manufacturer or retailer of consumer products for negligence, recklessness, improper marketing practices or false advertising. Consumers have been stripped of their legal rights to sue the gun industry because the gun lobby bullied and bought congressional support.
The gun industry saw successful lawsuits brought against big tobacco in the 1990s and realized their industry would be next. The gun lobby relied on the Second Amendment to protect their industry, but it doesn’t provide gun manufactures or dealers’ immunity from consumer liability lawsuits.
In 1997, the major tobacco companies agreed to a multibillion dollar settlement with the National Association of Attorneys General that resulted in stronger health warning labels and restrictions on advertising of tobacco products. The gun lobby saw what could happen if consumers, cities and states banded together to sue for damages resulting from their gun sales.
In 1998, Handgun Control Inc. (today it’s part of the Brady Campaign against gun violence) approached the lawyers that successfully sued big tobacco and enlisted them to sue gun manufacturers. That group organized big-city mayors across the country to bring lawsuits against gun manufacturers. Although most of the lawsuits failed, defending their products was very costly for gun manufacturers.
That’s exactly why the NRA demanded the Republican-controlled Congress pass the PLCAA in 2005. The gun lobby realized the Second Amendment wasn’t going to provide them protection from liability lawsuits.
The similarities between cigarettes and guns is striking. For years the tobacco companies claimed no responsibilities for the health hazards resulting from smoking just as the gun industry denies any link to gun violence. Tobacco companies championed the rights of smokers to light up anywhere just as gun makers have pushed to give gun owners the ability to carry everywhere. The tobacco industry denied for years any link between smoking and cancer. The gun industry claims guns don’t kill people and twists logic by saying people kill people.
The PLCAA provides the gun industry and gun dealers nearly complete immunity from legal claims and damages from the use of guns. It’s time the public demanded congress standup to the gun lobby and repeal their immunity from lawsuits. The public should have the right to bring suit against the gun industry just as they do with nearly all other products. We must force the gun lobby to defend their products in the court of public opinion.
by Rick Smith
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