01.27.16

Schiff and Blumenthal Introduce Legislation to Give Gun Victims Their Day in Court and End Gun Industry’s Liability Shield

Legislation Would Repeal Liability Shield Gun Sellers and Manufacturers Currently Enjoy

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced legislation – the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act – 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. The bill would repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). 

In 2005, Congress passed PLCAA, which provides immunity in state and federal court from civil liability for 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. As most gun companies are responsible businesses, this immunity only protects the worst actors in the industry.

“Good gun companies don’t need special immunity from the law, and bad gun companies certainly don’t deserve it,” said Rep. 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.  As part of our larger effort to stop gun violence in the country, everyone – including gun companies – should be held accountable for their actions.”

"Victims of law-breaking gun makers and dealers deserve a day in court – fair rights and remedies restored by this measure,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “Alone among all industries, guns are protected by a near absolute wall of legal immunity that bars the courthouse doors to victims. Our proposal would unlock the courthouse doors – holding gun makers and dealers accountable, and giving them a strong incentive to make safer, smarter products. Breaking the industry's legal shield means that bad actors can be made to pay, and good ones have a fairer playing field."

“Making the gun industry immune from lawsuits effectively handed them a license to kill. 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’,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “The gun lobby doesn't own Congress like it used to - this legislation is essential to ending the firearms industry's grip on Washington.”

“A decade ago, Congress shamefully passed a law that protects gun manufacturers and dealers from liability for the tragedies caused by their negligence,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). “This legislation is necessary to give victims of gun violence and their families recourse for irresponsible practices in the industry, and in turn encourage gun manufacturers and dealers to adopt common sense practices that will save lives in Maryland and across the country.”

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 the time a 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 and manufacturers 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.

This legislation allows 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.

“My family was not only robbed of a loved one, we were also robbed of our right to justice under the law,” said Hector Adames, uncle to gun violence victim Josh Adames. “Nothing can bring Josh back, but we can do so much more to save other families from the pain and suffering my family went through. For too long Congress has shielded the gun industry from responsibility for the people its products kill each year. It’s time to repeal this law, and hold the corporate gun lobby accountable for the pain, suffering and death it causes every single day in this country.”

"PLCAA is as low as it gets – a truly evil piece of special interest legislation that not only gives the gun industry protection from liability that no other industry in our nation enjoys, but it strips the rights of already devastated families,” said Dan Gross, President of Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “The Brady Center is proud to have worked with Representative Schiff, Senator Blumenthal, and Senator Murphy to craft the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act. This bill is a golden opportunity for politicians in Congress to show some backbone and put the rights of the American people before the profits and interests of the corporate gun lobby. We are calling on all members in the House and Senate to co-sponsor this important bill and immediately schedule a vote to pass it."

“For a decade, the gun industry has enjoyed sweeping immunity from liability that has slammed the courthouse doors shut against valid lawsuits seeking to hold gun manufacturers and dealers responsible for their products,” said Chelsea Parsons, Vice President for Guns and Crime Policy at the Center for American Progress. “The legislation being introduced today restores the balance to allow civil litigation to proceed again the gun industry, which will provide redress for victims of gun violence and their families and incentivize industry actors to implement best practices to prevent negligent and criminal use of their products. Congress should act quickly to pass this crucial legislation."

“In 2005, Congress enacted one of the biggest giveaways to private industry in American history by handing gun makers and dealers broad immunity from civil lawsuits,” said Adam Skaggs, Senior Counsel at Everytown For Gun Safety. “In any other business, a victim of a negligent manufacturer or retailer can seek relief in a civil lawsuit—but Congress slammed the courthouse door shut for victims of gun violence.  More than 300,000 Americans have been killed with guns since Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act would right that wrong and make the gun industry play by the same rules as every other American business.” 

"The current protections that give immunity to gun dealers and gun manufacturers are just one more example of irresponsible, dangerous steps taken by a Congress in the gun lobby's grip," said Peter Ambler, Director of Americans for Responsible Solutions. "By the removing these protections, the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act will provide victims and survivors of gun violence tools to finally hold negligent dealers and manufacturers accountable while also creating new incentives for responsible business practices. Passing this bill is the responsible, commonsense thing to do for public safety, and Americans for Responsible Solutions urges Congress to act."

Watch a live stream of the press conference introducing the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act.

To read the one page background document on the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, please click here.  To read the legislation, please click here. To read the Center for American Progress background document on the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and its history, please click here.

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