Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) announced that he will introduce legislation, The 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. Schiff is a former federal prosecutor, outspoken legislator on gun violence, and is currently serving as a member of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.
In 2005, Congress passed legislation called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) which provides immunity in state and federal court from civil liability for licensed 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. Against all logic, makers and sellers of some of the most deadly products, firearms, have the lowest obligations 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 sell them to others with no background check whatsoever. A background check is only as effective as it is comprehensive and if gun dealers can sell to straw purchasers with impunity, this represents another gaping loophole. As most gun companies are responsible businesspeople, this immunity only protects the worst actors in the industry.
"Good gun companies don't need special protection from the law, and bad companies don't deserve it," said Schiff. "Other industries across our country don't enjoy this protection under the law -- from pharmaceutical firms to automotive manufacturers or even cigarette companies -- and it's inexcusable for Congress to give the NRA and gun manufacturers a blank check. It's time to roll back this protection as part of our larger effort on stopping gun violence in our country, and make everyone -- including gun companies -- accountable for their actions."
Schiff has been working with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence to draft this legislation, and will begin to gather co-sponsors this week.
"We are better than a nation where businesses have a duty to act reasonably if they sell bb guns or beer, but the gun sellers who irresponsibly profit off criminals are above the law that applies to everyone else," said Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "Most gun sellers are responsible business people who don't supply criminals, but unless current law is changed, the few bad apples in the industry will be held unaccountable to victims of their irresponsible conduct."
When Congress pass the PLCAA, supporters assured Americans 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 acted in a fashion that would qualify as negligent if it involved any other product. Victims in these cases are denied the right to even discover evidence and then introduce evidence of negligence.
Schiff's legislation allow 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.