Want to reduce gun violence? Repeal federal law granting gun manufacturer’s immunity from lawsuits
This will save lives!
To the GOP, your children being killed by gun violence is an acceptable loss.
That is not just my view but also that of U.S. Senator Chris Murphy—a Democrat from Connecticut who has been one of the leading voices to save lives from gun violence. Murphy shared this sentiment when I recently interviewed him for Salon.com: "It is beyond me why Republicans who claim to care about the health of our kids don't seem to give a crap about our children who are being exposed to these epidemic, cataclysmic rates of gun violence."
The Republican party is all too happy to swiftly ban everything from abortion to drag shows to books all in the name of protecting children. But when it comes to gun violence which is the number one killer of America’s children—taking the lives of five children each and every day—the GOP will do nothing.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) told us that point blank on CNN Wednesday morning, saying we’ve “gone about as far as we’re going to with gun control.” And Tennessee GOP Rep. Tim Burchett reiterated that sentiment, saying about Congress passing new laws: “We’re not going to fix it.” Instead, Burchett’s plan to save lives from gun violence is, “You got to change people’s hearts.”
Beyond the heartbreak of children being killed by guns, in 2022 we saw 44,310 deaths related to guns or 121 people dead per day. The GOP saying they will do nothing to prevent more deaths is again telling you that the death of your family members—or even yourself--is an acceptable loss.
And worse, the GOP has help in these efforts to prevent laws enacted in Blue States (or by Congress) to prevent gun violence from the GOP controlled Supreme Court. That is the clear message of the 2022 Bruen Supreme Court decision where the 6 conservative Justices struck down a New York law in effect since 1911 requiring applicants for a license to carry a gun outside of their homes to have a “proper cause” to do so. In an opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court stated all restrictions on the right to “armed self-defense” are presumptively unconstitutional. The only gun safety laws that pass legal muster, Thomas declared, are those with “historical analogues” from 1791 (when the Second Amendment was ratified) or 1868 (when it was applied to the states).
We saw the real world impact of this horrible decision last month when the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that those under domestic violence restraining orders have a Second Amendment right to bear arms, thus, invalidating a federal law barring those alleged abusers from possessing guns as unconstitutional. (The risk of homicide in a domestic violence situation increases by 500% if a gun is present, according to research cited by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.)
What can we do? Repeal the 2005 federal law that grants gun manufacturer’s broad immunity from civil lawsuits when guns they produce and sell are used to slaughter children, women and men.
True, it would be challenging with today’s political make up of Congress—but Democrats should make repealing this law a rallying cry for 2024.
By way of background, in the early 2000’s, several cities--including New Orleans, Chicago and Washington--were filing multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the gun industry for creating a “public nuisance,” charging it was flooding their cities with guns. That is when the NRA jumped into action to protect gun manufacturers. Given that GOP President George W. Bush was in the White House and Republicans controlled both the Senate and the House, the NRA knew they had a receptive audience.
Thus, The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) was born. This law prohibits lawsuits against firearm and ammunition manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers, seeking recovery “for the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products or ammunition products by others when the product functioned as designed and intended.”
In other words—everyone selling guns from manufacturers to the dealers are not civilly responsible for any injuries caused by the very guns they are profiting off. (There are a few exceptions to the immunity provided by the law.)
At the time the law was signed, the National Rifle Association called the PLCAA “the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in 20 years."
But at this point, repealing the PLCAA is the most realistic way of reducing gun violence given it takes simply an act of Congress. The goal of the repeal is not to bankrupt these companies but because lawsuits in the past have caused corporations to implement safeguards to make their products safer.
One of the best examples are automobiles—which until 2020 was the number one killer of children until gun violence eclipsed that. Part of the reason the death toll for children—and adults--killed in car accidents dropped was safety protections installed in cars.
But some of the very protections in automobiles that we now take for granted came about because of civil lawsuits against car companies that cost them millions in damages and a ton of bad press. For example, the Ford Pinto had a gas tank that was designed in a way to save money but made passengers of the cars less safe. The Pinto’s design met all government standards of the time but even minor accidents caused the car to burst into flames.
Lawsuits by those injured in such accidents discovered that Ford knew of the problem and could fix it for as little as $11 per car but calculated that it would be more profitable to sell the car as-is and let injuries occur. Litigation and the bad press that went with it caused Ford to recall the car to add safety features—as well as change the design for future cars.
However, given that gun manufacturers—who have seen billions in revenue in recent years-- don’t have to fear lawsuits, they have no incentive to increase the safety of their weapons. One example of a way to make weapons safer is Smart gun technology that only allows the owner to fire the gun by requiring a fingerprint or palmprint before the trigger can release. Everytown for Gun Safety estimates that in 2021 there were 379 unintentional shootings by children, resulting in 154 deaths. This smart technology could’ve prevented those shootings.
Beyond children, according to 2020 analysis from the Center for American Progress, from 2012 to 2017, 1.8 million guns were stolen from individuals across the country, and an additional 53,900 guns were stolen from gun dealers. With smart technology these guns would not fire.
Gun manufactures that face lawsuits may also be incentivized to impose greater requirements before a person can buy the guns they sell, such as taking firearm safety courses or increased background checks before buying their AR-15 type weapon. These private companies are free to do that since there is no constitutional right involved in buying a specific weapon—nor is there government action involved.
There are now four states that allow civil recourse against gun manufactures. And Buffalo, New York recently filed a lawsuit against several gun manufacturers and distributors—based on the NY law that empowers this-- alleging they fueled violence in the city by making or providing “thousands of firearms recovered in crimes committed in the City of Buffalo and New York State.”
But guess where these laws will be challenged? In the right-wing US Supreme Court that may strike them down. Repealing the PLCAA, however, will end this debate. And there’s nothing the GOP controlled Supreme Court can do to stop that.
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