Why Is Congress Protecting the Gun Industry?

Gun manufacturers and dealers enjoy broad legal immunity, even though lawsuits against them would help improve safety

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Wade's Gun Shop, Bellevue, Wash.

Daniel Williams, a 16-year-old high school basketball star, was shot and badly injured while practicing outside of his home in Buffalo, N.Y. In October, a New York appeals court did something fairly remarkable. It let Williams proceed with a lawsuit against the maker and seller of the gun that that was used to shoot him.

Letting a lawsuit go forward may not sound like a big deal, but Congress enacted a law in 2005 — under heavy lobbying from the NRA and the gun industry — that gives gun manufacturers and dealers broad immunity from being sued. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) shields the gun industry even when it makes guns that are unnecessarily dangerous and sells them recklessly.

(MORE: A Sportsman’s View: We Need a Moderate Alternative to the NRA)

Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings, there have been widespread calls for Congress to pass gun control laws — and it should. But there has been less talk about another important tool that could be used to reduce gun violence: lawsuits against the gun industry. Some of these suits can succeed despite the PLCAA — as the Daniel Williams case shows — and we need more of them to be filed. But if Congress wants to get serious about gun violence, it should repeal the PLCAA.

Civil lawsuits do two important things: they compensate people who are injured by the bad acts of others and they penalize people and companies for bad behavior. If a company knows it may have to pay a large amount of money if it poses an unreasonable threat to others, it will have a strong incentive to act better.

Lawsuits prod companies to make their products safer. Years ago, lawsuits over the Ford Pinto’s fuel tank fires led Ford to recall the troubled car and improve the design. Since then, all sorts of consumer products — from aboveground swimming pools to children’s pajamas — have been made safer by litigation or the threat of litigation.

(MORE: Cohen: If We Want Gun Control, We’ll Need to Compromise)

Lawsuits also make retailers act more prudently when they sell things. “Dram shop” laws are a classic example. These laws, which allow victims of drunk drivers to sue the bar that sold the liquor, put pressure on bars and restaurants not to let people drive home drunk.

Before the PLCAA, lawsuits were starting to prod the gun industry to act more responsibly. In 2000, Smith & Wesson, the nation’s largest handgun manufacturer, agreed to a variety of safety conditions to end lawsuits that threatened to put it in bankruptcy. Among other things, Smith & Wesson agreed to put a second, hidden set of serial numbers on all of its new guns to make it harder for criminals to scratch away the identifying markings.

But the PLCAA took away the pressure to work on safety. Protected against lawsuits, gun manufacturers have less incentive to develop improved technology for locking guns when they are not in use and gun dealers have less reason to worry about whether the person they are selling a firearm to will use it to commit a crime.

(MORE: Sandy Hook Shooting: Video Games Blamed, Again)

The PLCAA contains exceptions that allow lawsuits in some cases — and gun control advocates and victims of gun violence should bring more suits that take advantage of these exceptions. One of the biggest exceptions is a provision that allows gun makers and sellers to be held liable when they know they are breaking a federal or state law. This is the one the New York appeals court relied on in allowing Daniel Williams’ suit to proceed. Williams is suing the Ohio seller who sold the firearm used to shoot him. He is alleging that the seller had reason to know that the buyers were gun traffickers who would turn around and resell the guns they bought on the criminal market.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is using this same loophole in a wrongful death suit that it filed this month on behalf of a 36-year-old woman who was shot by a stalker. The suit charges that Armslist.com, an Internet gun website, sold the gun used in the crime to the killer even though he did not live in state, as the law requires.

Lawsuits that use PLCAA loopholes to hold the gun industry accountable are important, but they are not enough. We are hearing a lot about gun rights these days — including from the Supreme Court, which has greatly expanded the Second Amendment right to bear arms. But with rights come responsibilities. Congress should repeal the PLCAA and require the gun industry to act according to the same standards of responsibility and safety as the rest of us.

MORE: The Real Gun Violence Discussion

273 comments
MIdiver
MIdiver

The fact that they even had to consider this is ridiculous.  How in the hell should a gun manufacturer be held liable for someone else using their products in a criminal or irresponsible manner.  This is the equivalent of the family killed by a drunk driver suing the car manufacture. If this were to change it would open Pandora's Box legally with everyone suing every manufacturer for someone, somehow hurting them.


Someone will get hurt by someone texting and driving and the victims family will sue the car manufacture, the cell phone mfg, the cell service provider, the company that made the tires as they all helped to enable this crime to happen because the made a damn car.  


At least there is no chance of this even being considered for the time being.  

LarryTate
LarryTate

If a gun blows up in someones face due to a defect then a lawsuit might be justified. If a criminal uses a perfectly good gun that functions exactly as designed then there is no justification for a lawsuit. This would be a criminal case where prosecution of the perpetrator would be justified. Period, end of story. Can anyone supply any logical reason that this should not be the case?


It should be noted that the PLCAA specifically provides that firearms dealers may be held liable for negligence when they have reason to know a gun is intended for use in a crime. Also, they may be prosecuted for failure to follow any laws regarding background checks or other presale requirements.

JulieVruggink
JulieVruggink

So let me get this right, a gun manufacture is some how liable for how their products are used?  Maybe rope companies or bat companies, or even knife companies will be next?  People really need to start thinking in logical manners about things, after all this is trying to say the person using the product is not responsible, but the companies that produced them are somehow? Maybe the next time an irresponsible person allows (yes allows) their child to eat detergent, or drink some cleaning product, the company that made that product will be liable and not the parent who did not keep that product out of their child's reach.  See where this is heading?  Not only do we have warnings against common sense behaviors on our products, like curling iron is hot when in use, but now people do not have to take responsibility for their own behaviors.

CarterGwynn
CarterGwynn

Many industries will be watching this, especially I think, the auto industry. Look how many people are killed or injured by cars. 

daleholmgren
daleholmgren

Liberals never say "with rights come responsibilities" when it comes to Voter ID laws.  The right to vote should come with the responsibility to have an ID with you, right?  Not according to the left.  They will gleefully place all sorts of demands on gun manufacturers to do more and more, but ask a citizen to carry an ID?  Oh, oh, oh, that's too haarrd!!! That's not faaiirr!!!

pir_anha
pir_anha

@daleholmgren Show data for exactly how much vote fraud actually happens.  Good luck.  Also, how many lives does vote fraud cost?

BoydTimothyBabcock
BoydTimothyBabcock

This is the stupidity of the limp dick liberals. They want to sue the gun maker because the product did exactly what it was designed to do. Do you sue General Electric because John beat his wife to death with a GE blender? Or if Betty put her kid in the oven made by Westinghouse? No the product did exactly what it was intended to do, the person misused it. So what did the gun manufacture do wrong if someone shoots a person in a crime or if some one shoots an intruder in self defense? The gun did what it was intended to do. Now of the gun blew up and hurt the shooter because it was a defective product you have a case. But libtards think with emotions not their logic. 

ClaudeLamontagne
ClaudeLamontagne

like it or not Piers Morgan and Obama try to do something about it but americans love their guns more than their children so...

ClaudeLamontagne
ClaudeLamontagne

American loves their guns more than their children so they will continue to protect gun manufacture over their kids.

Of course NRA will say equipped the good guys with guns so at the end everybody will shoot at everybody...

Odysseus_M_Tanner
Odysseus_M_Tanner

The author does not seem to grasp that the "loopholes" he describes are just cases where there is actual liability involved.  That's the way it is with guns as with any other product.  The law was necessary to protect the industry from predatory and frivolous lawsuits that have nothing to do with liability - and everything to do with the gun control/prohibitionist agenda.

whiteflynn2
whiteflynn2

No mention of gun crime on a downward spiral (lowest in 20 years and headed down). No mention of the 2.5 million people who defend themselves each year by the display or use of a firearm? 

Don't ya just love subjective journalism?

CaughlanCharles
CaughlanCharles

If Congress enacts gun control on Americans they won't be able to justify the coming raids that will eventually happen.

MichaelFRivero
MichaelFRivero

Suing gun makers for gun crime is like suing the Boeing Aircraft Corporation for 9-11.

MichaelFRivero
MichaelFRivero

If you want the victims of gun crime to be able to sue the gun makers for damages, then let us also allow the victims of drunk driving accidents to sue the car makers and distilleries as well. While we are at it, revoke the special protection granted to vaccine makers that was passed as part of the Homeland Security Act so that people who are actually harmed by poorly made vaccines can sue the pharmaceutical companies. And, given that at least 90% of these mass shootings were committed by people either on or withdrawing from prescription anti-depressants, the victims of those shootings should be allowed to sue the pharmaceutical companies as well. Let's sue the makers of kitchen cutlery for every stabbing death. Let's sue the makers of sporting equipment for every victim beaten to death with a baseball bat, and tool companies for making the hammers used on bludgeoning deaths as well. The family of everyone who dies by electrocution should be allowed to sue the electric company. The family of everyone who dies in a fall should be allowed to sue the makers of ladders and staircases. The family of everyone who commits suicide by hanging should be allowed to sue the rope companies.

DavidBulinski
DavidBulinski

People are just up in arms about 20 innocent children being mercilessly murdered. Just the same as they were with Columbine, Aurora, VT and numerous other mass shootings. When you look at the cold hard numbers, mass shootings account for a very low percentage of shooting deaths in this country. FBI stats show that in 2011 there were over 10000 murders, 8500 of which were by firearm. 6200 of those firearm murders were by handgun. That is 73%!!!!! The problem is NOT so called "assault weapons". The problem is NOT magazine capacity. You want proof? Look at the Luby massacre in Texas back in 1991. That killer didnt use an "assault weapon", and he was able to kill 23 and wound another 27. The Columbine shooters didnt use "assault weapons". Neither did the VT shooter or the man that shot Gabrielle Giffords. Now he used a Glock pistol with a 33 round magazine, but only killed 6 and wounded 13. The Luby shooter used standard magazines and killed and wounded more so magazine size makes NO DIFFERENCE!! 

Mass shootings get lots of media attention because of the single incident body count. What about the thousands of others? The problem with the mass shootings is that majority of the shooters have mental illnesses!!! The current NICS (National Instant Check System) does not provide a way for doctors that have patients that are a danger to be put on a "no firearm" list. Some doctors also hide behind "doctor patient confidentiality". The NRA agrees, and wants a way to make sure every person who has been committed, and or treated and considered a danger to be blocked from purchasing firearms. Every law abiding gun owner I know vehemently agrees. 

Dont believe everything you, see, hear, or read. Do your own research and discover the truth that the mainstream media does not always tell you. Most of the time the media will twist, and only tell you some truths because they sensationalize stories for better ratings. Remember that reporters and journalists are just people too. They have their opinions and are more than likely biased rather than open minded.

fletch
fletch

In the Arms Race article under spotlight, Time claims that the gun homicide rate is 3.2% so in 10 years 32% of the population is killed by guns and none of us live past 35 or so. I think what they meant to say was 3.2 homicides per 100,000 population. They have their decimal off by 5 places! Sloppy Work.

henrikb
henrikb

We already have a way of dealing with dangerous objects.  What do we do with the thing that kills more citizens than anything else?  We register cars and demand people to have a license and last but not least, we demand liability insurance.  Do the same with guns.

RodneyRetz
RodneyRetz

2ND AMENDMENT IS THE REASON TO PROTECT GUN COMPANIES!!!!! IF YOU DO NOT LIKE THE RIGHT AND FREEDOM TO BEAR ARMS AND THINK NO ONE HAS THIS RIGHT GET THE HELL OUT OF THIS COUNTRY!!!!

TacoNuts
TacoNuts

Using the author's same "logic" (or lack thereof), we should sue HIM, all school districts, and the Federal Government for CREATING gun free zones that ALLOWED the Sandy shootings to occur.  Make Gun Free Zones prohibitively expensive via lawsuits and forced insurance since anti's can't seem to understand the real world.

bibleverse1
bibleverse1

Suing gun manufacturers for defects yes not for willful misuse. Sellers to individuals who violate law yes.

MikefromPA
MikefromPA

Lawsuits against gun manufacturers were fought against by the NRA and other organizations because they were being used to target the manufacturers of legal firearms that were misused by people. Unlike the Ford Pinto that led to deaths through defects in the design and manufacturing process, the guns worked as intended without being defective but were used negligently. By Mr. Cohen's reasoning, alcohol manufacturers such as Anheuser Busch should be sued in drunk driving cases. Before someone throughs out cigarettes as an example, the Government regulated them and provided them for free to armed forces during Korea and Vietnam, so the lawsuits against tobacco companies were a farce as the Government was responsible as well. In addition no one was forced to smoke, they did so at their own risk. Like it or not, semi-auto firearms are the NRA, yet do not join because they claim we do not represent their interests. Last time I checked the NRA goes far beyond gun safety for youths, they also train law enforcement and security guards. They also publish American Hunter, a magazine for members and get involved with legislation to promote and further hunting. Are 30 round magazines needed for hunting? No, but the NRA's primary goal is to preserve our second amendment rights which have everything to do with preventing oppression from our government as well as other governments. For those who need a history lesson a black powder musket was the so called assault rifle during the revolutionary war and citizens owned the same firearm as the army. The semi-auto firearms that are deemed assault rifles are not even close (other than appearance) to what is being used on current battlefields. In summary, if you want your own organization for hunting rights or what you deem as common sense gun control, then go for it. Just don't expect those who believe in the constitution to support you. And I seriously need to understand common sense gun control. Do you really expect any gun owner to believe that a shooter with 10 or 15 round magazines would have killed less people? If so please look up VA tech shooting which was conducted with two handguns; no so called assault rifle. Your primary mission is to enact meaningless gun control measures to whittle away at our rights while achieving no results. That is why organizations such as the NRA and GOA will continue to thrive and gain members. I am proud to be a member of the NRA .

bean2350
bean2350

I grew up in the mountians of PA and own a few guns i hear my uncles and cousins all yelling about bans how they wont let the govt take their guns away the problem is its not their guns the govt wants so they are concerned for no reason at all

I do not see the federal govt banning the sale and use of a .30 06 or a .30.30 nor would i approve of it

however i do feel that a weapon designed to fire more than one round without requiring the target should have federal regs attached.

the govt is not going to ban my dad from buying a new 12 gauge pump or that .50 flintlock muzzelloader kit he is building  

ban the commerical sale of military style weapons i would leave handguns alone (focus on the bad guys here not the guns)

please keep the focus here(weapons ban) on what we are trying to stop which is the mass shootings and change the focus of the police from drugs to violent crime

commentonitall
commentonitall

"Locking a gun" is the individuals responsibility, not the manufacturer's.  That's like saying car manufacturers should include ways to keep drunk people from driving their vehicles.  Or companies that produce potentially poisonous chemicals should insure no one ever ingests them.  How about gas companies making sure their gas is never set on fire to keep people from getting burned.  Your lack of knowledge of guns shows through in your writings and personal responsibility goes a long way, it's just that Americans and people like you think it should not exist when that is the only and real problem.

Boony
Boony

Congress should make it legal for individuals to sue companies for selling a product to a person that commits a crime? Because lawsuits in this country have worked so wonderfully for us. Where would it stop? Using the basic idea stated in this article, a victim could potentially sue McDonalds if the perpetrator ate there before committing the crime....who knows they might have provided bad customer service to the criminal which made him angry thus committing whatever crime against his/her chosen victim (I could come up with scenarios all day!). More laws and regulations are not going to make crime stop, they are not going to make every person "good", and they won't stop disaster. Imposing regulations on everyone for a few peoples obviously terrible decisions is not a way to fix a problem, it's a way to band aid the problem, to sweep it under the rug and hope no one looks under there.  

macumbero86
macumbero86

Time Magazine argues that gun manufacturers should be sued for the crimes
committed with guns they manufacture. In other news, Time argues that
car makers and whiskey distillers should be sued for drunk driving
deaths, knife makers should be sued for stabbing deaths, skateboard
manufacturers should have to pay for skateboard accidents. Oh, wait,
that would require consistency.

kratos1256
kratos1256

Guns are pieces of machinery designed to kill something. Suing the gun company if someone is shot is about the dumbest thing on the face of the planet. However, it is smart from a gun control standpoint in that it forces the gun companies to have to spend lots of money defending themselves because of a little-known fact that the gun control people do not tell to the general public, which is that the gun manufacturing industry is actually pretty tiny. It does not finance the NRA and so forth the way they make people think it does, as it's too small to have that kind of influence. As such, it is excellent for suing to try to just drive it out of business.

dlee4
dlee4

This concept I disagree. My table saw is very dangerous. It is a proven fact that many are hurt by this machine. So should I sue the maker because I either missuse the machine or use the machine correctly by also hurt although the manufactor  made the saw correctly? No as long as the saw meets industry standards then it is a good saw and the manufactor should not be held responsible. I purchased the saw with no required training or certification and at my own risk.