The U.S. Senate has taken a step that no body of elected officials should ever have to take. Senators voted 65 to 31 earlier this month to shield firearms manufacturers from lawsuits that attempt to hold them responsible for the unlawful actions of criminals who use guns to commit crimes.
The move was applauded by supporters as critical to protect an industry against frivolous lawsuits and panned by opponents as a sop to the National Rifle Association when the Senate has more important business. The House is expected to vote on the bill later this year.
The vote bars lawsuits accusing firearms manufacturers and dealers of negligence for not more closely policing gun purchases to ensure guns don’t wind up in the wrong hands.
Opponents point out that had such a law been in effect when the Washington snipers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, stole the rifle used in those killings, the families of the victims would have been unsuccessful in their attempts to recover damages from the dealer. That dealer’s sloppy record keeping helped the pair make off with the rifle without being detected.
The opponents’ logic is flawed.
The federal government licenses and inspects the records of gun makers and dealers. Problems with sales and inventory should then ultimately be the responsibility of the feds, right? Should we allow victims and families to sue the government for not doing more to protect us? Of course not. The people responsible for crimes committed with guns are the criminals. But victims don’t sue them for damages because, for the most part, they don’t have the assets to make such a suit worthwhile. So victims, and their lawyers, go after those with deep pockets.
The proposed law would also protect manufacturers from lawsuits filed by cities and states that attempt to charge the firearms industry for the costs to government of gun violence. Again, these lawsuits go after those with deep pockets rather than those actually responsible. They’re also transparent attempts to bankrupt a legitimate industry to accomplish the goal of disarming Americans. What gun control advocates cannot get through legislation they attempt to get through the courts. And activist judges ignore centuries of liability law and allow the lawsuits to proceed. Fortunately, most have been unsuccessful.
Make no mistake; the Senate bill is not a free pass for firearms manufacturers. They would continue to be liable if a defect in their product causes injury or death. But they would be off the hook for actions of others that are beyond their control.
If a driver intentionally drives onto a crowded sidewalk with the intent of killing and maiming people, no one would sue the car maker, even though its marketing goals are the same as those of gun makers: get as much of their product to the consumer as possible. However, if a poorly designed brake or steering system failed and the car plowed into a crowd, the manufacturer would be liable for damages. The same is true with firearms. If a design or manufacturing flaw causes a gun to blow up or misfire causing a death or injury, the maker should take the heat.
A free society must constantly walk a fine line between liberty and security; the more we have of one, the less we have of the other. Life is a constant trade-off between the two. We tend to favor more liberty. It allows individuals to decide how much security they want to trade away.