Democrats on Capitol Hill introduced a proposal on Wednesday with the help of gun safety groups that would repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
The measure, to be introduced in the Senate by Connecticut lawmakers Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and in the House by California Rep. Adam Schiff, would strip away the decade-old safeguard passed by Congress that insulates the gun industry from frivolous lawsuits.
“Making the gun industry immune from lawsuits effectively handed them a license to kill,” said Murphy in a press conference Wednesday. “Congress intentionally let gun makers and sellers off the hook for the murder and mayhem they knew would happen. And they looked the victims’ families in the eye and said ‘Tough luck. There’s nothing you can do about it.'”
In October 2005, President George W. Bush signed PLCAA after it had passed through Congress by better than a 2 to 1 margin. The act prohibits both lawful firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable for negligence when crimes have been committed with their products. Democrats have repeatedly attempted to roll back the protection for several years with little result.
On hand at the conference this week to help support the repeal were representatives from the Center for American Progress, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Gifford’s Americans for Responsible Solutions and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
Gun control advocates paint the protection as giving a special exception from accountability under the law to gun makers and dealers that no other industry has.
“In any other business, a victim of a negligent manufacturer or dealer can seek relief in a civil lawsuit—but Congress slammed the courthouse door shut for victims of gun violence,” Adam Skaggs, senior counsel for Everytown said in a statement emailed to Guns.com. “More than 300,000 Americans have been killed with guns since Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The bill would right that wrong and make the gun industry play by the same rules as every other American business.”
Prior to the enactment of PLCAA, Bushmaster paid $2 million to settle a suit brought by the Brady Center and the families of victims of the 2002 Beltway Sniper, John Allen Muhammad. In that case, gun control advocates argued that Bushmaster allegedly continued to sell rifles to a gun dealer from which Muhammad shoplifted his weapon, despite being aware of the store’s history of record-keeping violations, as cited by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Recent civil cases, such as one in Connecticut filed by 10 families of victims killed during the Sandy Hook shooting against gun maker Remington, and another in Colorado against online ammo retailer Lucky Gunner by the parents of an Aurora theater victim backed by the Brady Center, have run into trouble with PLCAA while more cut and dry suits involving potentially defective products such as against Taurus and Remington have not.
Further, a case in Wisconsin in which a gun dealer negligently selling a pistol to a straw buyer that was later used to shoot two police officers resulted in a $6 million judgment, showing PLCAA is not the ironclad defense against litigation that lawmakers and gun control groups bent on its repeal claim.
“The PLCAA only bars frivolous lawsuits that seek to blame gun manufacturers and dealers for the criminal misuse of lawfully sold, non-defective products,” Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, explained to Guns.com Wednesday.
Keane holds the law came about as a protection for the industry following a push by the left to destroy it in a flood of court filings.
“The PLCAA exists because the Brady Center, greedy trial lawyers and big city mayors got together in the late 1990’s to circumvent Congress and impose gun control regulation through litigation through settlements or bankrupt the industry with massive judgment,” Keane said. “They are lying about the PLCAA to advance the anti-Second Amendment agenda. They want to repeal the PLCAA so they can launch a new wave of frivolous lawsuits with the same objective.”
Keane argues the move is political theater in an election year in which the liability shield has become a hot button issue for Democratic presidential candidates. Indeed, a post to social media from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence on the press conference turned into a free-for-all debate over Sen. Bernie Sanders’ past record on PLCAA.
The NSSF vice president also cautioned that Bloomberg himself might carry an ax to grind on the law, as under his watch New York City brought Beretta to federal court in 2008 and lost big in the Second U.S. Court of Appeals.
“That rumored presidential candidate and former NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s Everytown organization supports this bill exposes their true agenda is not about actual ‘gun safety’ but to destroy the Second Amendment,” said Keane. “Mayor Bloomberg’s lawsuit against our industry was dismissed based on the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms. Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg wants a second bite of his rotten apple.”
Despite the rhetoric on both sides, with a strong Republican majority in Congress and election cycle politics widening the gap across the aisle, the likelihood of a PLCAA repeal this session is slim.