Ending Legal Protection for Gun Industry

We couldn’t be more thankful that Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and advocates are rallying behind a new attempt to defeat legal immunity for gun manufacturers. Schiff’s bill, HR2814, is being considered this session, and it could change the dynamic of gun violence by holding manufacturers and sellers responsible for their negligence. 

For us, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (commonly known by its acronym, PLCAA) isn’t just a bad law, it’s a law that has devastating personal consequences. In the aftermath of our daughter’s death, we became named plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Lucky Gunner and others, while we were associated with the Brady.Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. 

The lawsuit failed, and despite the judge’s assertion that we would be held harmless by Brady for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys fees he awarded, we were not. We had to declare bankruptcy.

Even more importantly, the impunity with which gun manufacturers have been able to operate in the wake of PLCAA has devastating consequences for us all. 

In a recent joint discussion, participants from Giffords and Guns Down America appeared with Congressman Schiff and us to discuss the many ramifications of PLCAA, which include perverse incentives for the makers of killing weapons. 

As Congressman Schiff noted, “Good actors in this industry don’t need this protection, and the bad actors don’t deserve it.”  Robyn Thomas of Giffords added that without the threat of litigation for failure to exercise due care, PLCAA “almost empowers the industry to be negligent without any consequence.” 

Ryan Busse, who once worked in the gun industry, cited what’s happened since PLCAA as a reason for the Schiff bill. He said he wants to be part of the solution to gun violence, not part of the problem, and decried the new product development and even naming of weapons that he said reflects a radicalization among manufacturers and sellers  that’s “not good for our country.”

And what of gun manufacturers that may have tried to be responsible? Igor Volsky of Guns Down America said that there was a mass shunning, spurred by the National Rifle Association (NRA), of Smith & Wesson when it bucked the industry’s least responsible trends.  But that kind of pressure can be countered with another kind of pressure: from voters and others who stand up for gun safety, and in the interests of public health. 

The people’s will has caused legislative action on car safety and tobacco regulation. When liquor is sold, bar owners have liability and reason to curb excessive drinking by patrons - why should guns be treated differently?

Although the path toward getting HR 2814 passed is uphill, and not the first gun safety law likely to be adopted, Congressman Schiff has a measure of optimism, as well as determination. He thinks we may be nearing a tipping point, where being against sensible gun safety measures will be more politically dangerous than supporting them. “Once you get to that tipping point, it can go very fast,” he said, just as attaining marriage equality seemed like a very remote possibility, until all of a sudden it was law.

The tactics for moving the needle include letter writing campaigns to legislators, calls, and visits. Ryan Busse wants to see responsible gun owners speaking up. And Congressman Schiff counseled, if your legislator is already a supporter, find friends who can make the case with their legislators who might be on the fence, because constituents hold the key to making a politician take notice.

Robyn Thomas added that we should all support or reject candidates with an eye toward how they respond to gun safety issues  - and make clear to candidates you expect them to prioritize and vote to advance the gun safety cause.

Once upon a time, cars were much less safe, as were the roads. Drunk driving was much more common. Notions of public health demanded better. Litigation can be a huge incentive for doing the right thing, said Thomas. And that - in addition to fairness - is why defeating PLCAA is so important. 

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