10.30.13

Rep. Schiff Highlights New Report on Immunity Shield Enjoyed by Gun Manufacturers and Dealers

Washington, DC –Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a former federal prosecutor who has introduced legislation to ensure that the victims of gun violence are allowed to have their day in court and that the gun industry – manufacturers, sellers and interest groups – is not shielded from liability when it acts with negligence and disregard for public safety, highlighted a new report by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence titled “Justice Denied: The Case Against Gun Industry Immunity.”  This report exposes the unprecedented legal protections provided to the gun industry by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a law enacted in 2005 at the behest of the NRA.

“Good gun companies don’t need special protection from the law, and bad gun companies certainly don’t deserve it,” said Schiff. “Other industries across our country like automotive manufacturers, pharmaceutical firms and even cigarette companies don’t enjoy special protection under the law, and there is no reason to give the gun industry the right to act negligently.  This new report demonstrates, in a very real way, that as part of our larger effort to stop gun violence in the country, everyone – including gun companies – must be held accountable for their actions.”

Background:

In 2005, Congress passed legislation called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) which provides immunity in state and federal court from civil liability for licensed manufacturers, distributors and dealers of firearms, as well as their trade associations, in most negligence and products liability actions. This immunity from liability under well-established common law principles that apply to everyone else in society is unique to the gun industry. As a result, gun makers and sellers have a lesser obligation to act with reasonable care for the safety of the public. It also means that gun sellers can turn a blind eye to straw purchasers or traffickers who may buy hundreds of weapons and traffick them to others with no background check whatsoever. A background check is only as effective as it is comprehensive, and if gun dealers can sell to straw purchasers with impunity, it could lead to the large scale evasion of a universal background check system. As most gun companies are responsible businesses, this immunity only protects the worst actors in the industry.

When Congress passed the PLCAA, its supporters argued that it was necessary to protect the gun industry from frivolous lawsuits but that victims of gun violence would not be shut out of the courts. Senator Larry Craig, the sponsor of the legislation and, at that time member of the NRA’s board, stated during debate on the Senate floor, “This bill will not prevent a single victim from obtaining relief for wrongs done to them by anyone in the gun industry.” In reality, numerous cases around the nation have been dismissed on the basis of PLCAA even when the gun dealers acted in a fashion that would qualify as negligent if it involved any other product. Victims in these cases were denied the right to even discover or introduce evidence of negligence.

Schiff’s legislation, The Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, has attracted twenty-four cosponsors and would allow civil cases to go forward against irresponsible bad actors. Letting courts hear these cases would provide justice to victims while creating incentives for responsible business practices that would reduce injuries and deaths. 

A copy of the report by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence can be found here.  You can also read background articles on this issue in the Washington Post, National Public Radio, Los Angeles Times, and The Nation.