Is the Gun Industry Really Free of Liability?

January 24th, 2016

Over the last couple of years, the Democrats have decided that gun control is no longer a toxic political issue.  In fact, they seem to consider it a vital imperative, and support for new restrictions has become something of a litmus test.  Presidential candidates Clinton and Sanders have both been strident in calls for new legislation.

One of their primary targets is the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.  The claim is that the PLCAA exempts manufacturers and retailers from any sort of liability for their actions.  As Clinton put it,

So far as I know, the gun industry and gun sellers are the only business in America that is totally free of liability for their behavior. Nobody else is given that immunity. And that just illustrates the extremism that has taken over this debate.

This isn't just wrong; it's an utter lie.

During the late years of the Clinton administration, the Mayors of Chicago and Bridgeport decided to sue gun manufacturers for the damage inflicted by the criminal misuse of their products.  The whole mess culminated when Smith & Wesson, eager to avoid lawsuits, struck a bargain with the Clinton administration with a wide-reaching set of restrictions on the manufacture and sale of their products.  The provisions of the agreement were to be, oddly enough, enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo (yep, one and the same) declared triumph and used the threat of costly litigation to intimidate manufacturers, gleefully warning of "death by a thousand cuts."

The problem is this:  they weren't suing the manufacturers for making defective products or for irresponsible marketing.  They were suing companies for making guns.

In 2005, the PLCAA was passed to clear this up.  It's not a blanket protection.  There are still provisions under which suits can be brought for design or manufacturing defects, transfer of firearms in violation of existing law, breach of contract or warranty, or illegal marketing.

What isn't allowed is suing manufacturers for the unforeseen criminal misuse of their products.  I can't sue Glock because someone stole one of their guns and shot me with it any more than I can sue Chevrolet because a drunk driver hit me with one of their vehicles.

This whole issue has nothing to do with removing a supposed extralegal protection.  It's about being able to bypass the legislative process via punitive lawsuits.

  1. Damocles wrote, running Mozilla Firefox 43.0 on Windows 7

    Very well said. The debacle with S&W nearly doomed the company and it had to re-emerge as essentially a new company with new leadership. If I take a Lincoln SUV and use it to plow through a parade of people, is Ford responsible for my ill-intent? No.

    Comment on January 25, 2016 @ 3:15 pm

  2. Kristen wrote, running Google Chrome 47.0.2526.111 on Windows 7

    gun control is a really serious issue and it needs to be taken up by government,

    Comment on January 28, 2016 @ 5:42 am

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