Monday, October 17, 2016

Why does the gun industry have special legal immunity?

Because of the Constitution's Second Amendment, Americans enjoy a special right to own weapons that is pretty much unique in the world. Millions of weapons are sold each year, and after every mass murder spree sales go up.

The gun industry likes to scare its followers by telling them that their constitutional right is at risk every time Democrats are in power, but nothing concrete ever really happens. On the contrary, this is the only industry that enjoys special protections no others do:
A key way to ensure that gun companies have the right incentives would be to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. 
Enacted in 2005, this federal law gave gun sellers a special immunity from legal responsibilities that is not enjoyed by any other industry. 
This law was enacted because a wave of lawsuits had put unprecedented pressure on the gun industry. 
[...] The lawsuits generated evidence of severe problems with distribution of guns, including undercover sting operations revealing how gun dealers knowingly allow people to make “straw purchases” on behalf of convicted felons who cannot pass a background check. 
The lawsuits also changed perceptions about the issue. Rather than seeing gun violence simply as a crime issue, the press and public began focusing for the first time on specific ways in which the gun industry’s practices contribute to the danger. 
Journalists wrote a flood of stories about topics like how gun companies boosted the lethality of their products to boost sales, how new technologies could make guns “personalized” to prevent unauthorized use and what government data showed about the illegal market for guns. 
The lawsuits put enormous pressure on the gun industry to either reform its practices or face serious potential liability. From the industry’s perspective, that meant the lawsuits were a major threat. Rather than doing the right thing and cleaning up its act, the industry turned to Congress for relief. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act knocked out almost all of the litigation pending against gunmakers at the time. 
[...] The federal measure effectively bars almost any lawsuit against a gun manufacturer or wholesale distributor for failing to take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of criminal misuse of its products, such as exercising greater oversight of the retail dealers through which guns are sold. 
It also bars a wide range of claims against retail sellers of firearms, leaving only a few narrow exceptions such as for certain types of claims based on statutory violations. For example, a gun dealer can be sued for knowingly selling a gun to a convicted felon or other legally disqualified purchaser. But if a dealer takes an “I know nothing” attitude and recklessly disregards circumstances that ought to raise reasonable suspicions or concerns about selling the gun, the dealer can invoke the federal immunity statute to avoid liability.
The article has a lot more detailed information and examples of issues caused by this unique form of immunity, and the author closes with what seems like a reasonable argument:
At the same time, I would argue that gun manufacturers and dealers should not be subject to any extraordinary forms of liability that do not apply to other products. 
They should not be liable, for example, merely because a firearm is a weapon that is capable of being used to do harm. But if a gun manufacturer or dealer fails to take basic, reasonable precautions in distributing products, it should be held accountable under the law just as an irresponsible company in any other business would be. 
Think about what the threat of liability for defective cars like the Ford Pinto has done for auto safety, or how the risk of liability for a dangerous product like the Dalkon Shield contraceptive device gives good incentives to the manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and other medical products. Why should the makers of firearms be any different? 
With the risks of firearms in the wrong hands becoming ever more apparent, Congress should reconsider its regrettable decision to give the gun industry special immunity from legal responsibility.
And this CNN article comparing American deaths by gun violence vs. terrorism puts the crisis into perspective:
For every one American killed by an act of terror in the United States or abroad in 2014, more than 1,049 died because of guns. 
Using numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we found that from 2001 to 2014, 440,095 people died by firearms on US soil. (2014 is the most recent year for which the CDC has data for deaths by firearms.) This data covered all manners of death, including homicide, accident and suicide. 
According to the US State Department, the number of US citizens killed overseas as a result of incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2014 was 369. 
In addition, we compiled all terrorism incidents inside the United States and found that between 2001 and 2014, there were 3,043 people killed in domestic acts of terrorism.* This brings the total to 3,412.

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