Yesterday, I received an “urgent” e-mail from Carissa Miller of the Daily Kos, a progressive online political community that offers news and commentary, though sometimes the two are difficult to separate.
Holding some progressive views myself, I follow the Daily Kos and even post from time to time.
Yesterday’s urgent communication was from Everytown for Gun Safety and the Daily Kos and it was a petition to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 (PLCAA), a law that protects firearms manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits based on criminal acts committed with the guns they make or sell.
This immunity does not sit well with some:
We need you to tell the NRA and their allies in Congress that you don’t support giving the gun industry a get-out-of-jail-free card when they negligently cause an injury or death.
In 2005, NRA-backed lawmakers exempted the gun industry from almost all liability. That means that family members of gun violence victims have been denied a day in court against gun shops who have sold guns to known gang members and arms manufacturers who have sold firearms without basic safety features.
Gun manufacturers and sellers have more immunity than any other consumer product including toys, pools, knives, and cars. The NRA has spent millions defending this law. With 88 people killed by guns in America every day, why should the gun industry be held to a different standard than pharmaceutical companies and automakers?
Senator Blumenthal and Representative Schiff have introduced legislation to repeal this dangerous law. Tell Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan that you support Senator Blumenthal and Representative Schiff’s efforts to hold the gun industry responsible.
Join Everytown and Daily Kos in telling Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan to repeal this extemist bill and hold the gun industry accountable.
The gun lobby is powerful — but so are the American people. I know we can win this.
Carissa Miller, Daily Kos
I won’t be signing this petition for two reasons.
In the first place, I think anyone who believes that this petition is going to have any impact at all on either Senator McConnell or Speaker Ryan is delusional. Sending a politician a demand, even one electronically “signed” by large number of people who will never, ever vote for them, is pointless. If one was actually serious about this, they would write an actual letter and actually mail it to them. Or pick up the phone and make a call. Their office phone numbers are easily obtained.
The second , and more important, reason is that I regard the PLCAA to be a good law. For one thing, it keeps the industry from going bankrupt fighting frivolous lawsuits trying to collect money for things that are beyond the reasonable control of either a manufacturer or a retailer, such as criminal use of a firearm.
Far from being a get-out-of-jail-free card as the Daily Kos claims, the law does not protect the industry from lawsuits stemming from actual product defects like shoddy workmanship or inferior materials, either of which could cause injury or death in the case of a malfunctioning gun. It also doesn’t shield dealers that make sales to people they know are straw purchasers (a straw purchaser is a person legally allowed to buy a gun purchasing one for someone who is not). Badger Guns of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, learned this the hard way by getting slapped with a $6 million judgement in the case of two police officer wounded by a criminal using a gun purchased at the store.
In other words, the PLCAA does exactly what it is supposed to do: protect manufacturers and retailers from groundless lawsuits while continuing to hold them accountable for product defects and criminal actions of their own. It is a federal offense to sell a firearm to a person that is prohibited from owning one and it is also a federal offense to knowingly sell a firearm to a straw purchaser.
A federally licensed firearms dealer is required by law to have a prospective buyer complete a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BAFTE) Form 4473. This form requires the person to provide certain information, certify they are not a felon, fugitive from justice, illegally in the U.S. and have never been convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse, been dishonorably discharged from the military or found to be mentally incompetent. The prospective buyer is also required to present a valid photo ID, such as a driver’s license. The dealer is then required to call the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) service so it can run a background check. Only if the background check comes back with a “Proceed” response can the sale be completed on the spot. A “Delay” response gets complicated as we learned in the case of Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine people at the Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The BATE offers dealers advice on how to spot a straw purchaser and if the dealer suspects a customer is a straw purchaser, the dealer has the absolute right to refuse to make the sale. Better to lose a customer that to lose a license and one mistake is all it takes.
If a gunmaker produces a quality product and the dealer takes all reasonable precautions to ensure the gun is sold to someone legally allowed to purchase it, they have done everything that can be asked of them.
If the person that passed the background check and did not appear to be a straw purchaser then takes the gun and holds up a convenience store or gives or sells it to a gangbanger who then murders someone, how is it the manufacturer’s or dealer’s fault?
It isn’t. But the manufacturer or store most likely has deeper pockets than the robber or gang member so it’s more lucrative to go after them. This is what the PLCAA was intended to prevent. Fighting a lawsuit is costly, even if you win, and judges don’t always grant costs to defendants.
Prior to the passage of the PLCAA, New York Attorney General Elliott Spitzer had promised arms makers a “death by a thousand cuts” through an endless stream of nuisance lawsuits. Congress shut him down, which was the right thing to do.
Incidentally, the claim that the gun industry has more immunity than the manufacturer of any other consumer product is untrue. It just doesn’t have any less.
So, Ms. Miller, thank you for this invitation but I think I’ll pass.