We are reminded by Media Maters:
As major media outlets report on gun violence prevention strategies in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, they have ignored a controversial law that shields the firearms industry from being held accountable.
In 2005, former President George W. Bush signed into law the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act – the “No. 1 legislative priority of the National Rifle Association” – which immunized gun makers and dealers from civil lawsuits for the crimes committed with the products they sell, a significant barrier to a comprehensive gun violence prevention strategy. Despite recent reporting on proposed efforts to prevent another tragedy like the one in Newtown, a Media Matters search of Nexis revealed major newspapers and evening television news have not explained this significant legal immunity.
Faced with an increasing number of successful lawsuits over reckless business practices that funneled guns into the hands of criminals, the 2005 immunity law was a victory for the NRA, which “lobbied lawmakers intensely” to shield gun makers and dealers from personal injury law. As described by Erwin Chemerinsky, a leading constitutional scholar and the Dean of the University of California-Irvine School of Law, by eliminating this route for victims to hold the gun industry accountable in court, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was a complete deviation from basic “principles of products liability“:
The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act is also commonly referred to as the “Gun Protection Act.” The law dismissed all current claims against gun manufacturers in both federal and state courts and pre-empted future claims. The law could not be clearer in stating its purpose: “To prohibit causes of action against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms or ammunition products, and their trade associations, for the harm caused solely by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products or ammunition products by others when the product functioned as designed and intended.” There are some narrow exceptions for which liability is allowed, such as actions against transferors of firearms who knew the firearm would be used in drug trafficking or a violent crime by a party directly harmed by that conduct.
It is outrageous that a product that exists for no purpose other than to kill has an exemption from state tort liability. Allowing tort liability would force gun manufacturers to pay some of the costs imposed by their products, increase the prices for assault weapons and maybe even cause some manufacturers to stop making them.
As I was reading several similar articles (on the not-so-major media) I stopped to consider what my liability might be if a wild-eyed young man of my acquaintance who was battling a tendency to uncontrollable anger followed by deep despondency and I gave him a loaded semi-automatic weapon because he said he wanted one. Would I be considered an accessory before the fact if the young man then ran into a movie theater and started shooting? According to the law I could be charged with the same charges as the shooter: multiple homicides. But if I sold that gun to the same young man under the same circumstances at a gun show I might even make a deal for a larger clip and be on my way to the bank to deposit the spoils of capitalism when the same young man opens fire in the theater. And thanks to the NRA and George Bush, I would be back the next day selling the same guns to other wild-eyed enthusiasts that like to hunt.