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“The Case For Gun Liability Laws”: Guns Are The Only Consumer Product In America With No Safety Oversight

Knives. Automobiles. Cold medicine. Alcohol. Cigarettes. Coffee.

What do these items have in common?

They’re all held to a higher safety standard than firearms.

Because of product-liability law, manufacturers must equip them with proper warnings, limitations and built-in designs that enhance their safety.

If they don’t, consumers can sue them for harm caused by the product. And all consumer products manufacturers are required to ensure that their products are free of design defects and don’t threaten public safety.

Guns, as Jonathan Lowy of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s Legal Action Project has said, are “the only consumer product in America with no federal safety oversight.”

Firearms haven’t always been a protected class; but as the industry lost millions in lawsuits over the years, liability protection became the NRA’s holy grail.

Before 2005, the Brady Center — named for President Reagan’s press secretary James Brady, who was shot and paralyzed in a failed assassination attempt on the president — had launched multiple lawsuits around the country. Los Angeles, New York and 30 other cities, counties and states had filed civil lawsuits against gun manufacturers — including a $100 million suit against the gun industry by Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1999. The pain inflicted on negligent manufacturers was real and it was expensive. In 2003, Bryco Arms declared bankruptcy after paying $24 million in the case of a 7-year-old boy who was paralyzed by a defective gun.

Then, in 2005, after a civil lawsuit brought after the Washington, D.C., sniper killings left the manufacturer Bushmaster with a $2 million bill, the NRA aggressively and successfully lobbied for the passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act , which offered permanent protection to gun makers.

There is absolutely no reason that the manufacturers of deadly weapons should be given a free pass. Yet, after a week of carnage that included the Navy Yard shooting and a Chicago killing spree, Congress — a wholly owned subsidiary of the NRA — isn’t even bothering with gun-control legislation.

The public is expected to move on, with a weary shrug of the shoulders and a passive shake of the head, resigned to the inaction of our elected officials.

But the seventh mass shooting in a year combined with data predicting another one in February are not signs that we should give up.

They are a reminder that change takes time, patience and resolve, even when the moving images of tearful families are pushed to the back of our collective cultural memory.

Following the 1981 shooting of Brady, it took over five years for Congress to introduce meaningful gun legislation. The Brady Law requiring background checks wasn’t signed until 1993.

As gun violence increases, so too does the NRA’s stock — and the stock price of the publicly held gun manufacturers that fund it. In the wake of the December 2012 Newtown massacre, gun sales increased across the country. And the NRA gets a dollar for every gun or package of ammunition sold at participating stores.

A lot of those dollars go directly into Congressional coffers. The Center for Public Integrity reported that the NRA, Gun Owners of America and other allied groups have poured nearly $81 million into House, Senate and presidential races since 2000. Of the 46 senators who blocked a federal background checks bill in April, 43 have received millions of dollars from pro-gun interests in the last decade. And if elected officials weren’t already scared of being unseated by NRA-funded ads and campaigns, they need only look to the two Colorado state legislators who were recently recalled for supporting gun-control legislation.

Yet, there may be an opening to once again revisit common-sense legislation, including changing liability laws. After all, those who voted against the background check bill saw their approval ratings in their states drop as a result. And as recalled Colorado Sen. Angela Giron recently wrote, there is, in fact, a growing counterbalance to the gun lobby, with more organizations standing up for those who favor sensible gun reform.

Before the gun lobby successfully killed all gun-control legislation, there were some key wins in the fight to hold gun manufacturers liable. Last year, the New York State appellate court ruled that a Buffalo man who was shot nearly a decade ago could sue the gun manufacturer, distributor and dealer. In August of this year, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of a plaintiff who filed a negligence lawsuit against the owners of a gun shop.

The NRA will paint product liability legislation as a threat to law-abiding gun owners. After all, guns are meant to injure and kill. But gun manufacturers could control distribution enough to prevent guns from entering the criminal market.

When the government is worried that you might use that second bottle of NyQuil to cook meth, it’s not unreasonable to ask why someone needs to buy 15 assault rifles in one sitting.

Washington’s shameful cowardice aside, there are leaders across the country who have courageously done the right thing, paying a political price so that innocent Americans don’t have to pay the ultimate price. As Sen. Giron said of her experience, “Today, Colorado is safer because of the laws we passed. I have no regrets about that.”

If more of our elected officials were inspired by her example, we might all have fewer regrets.

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 24, 2013

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Real Fight For Liberty”: The Colorado Recall’s Morality Lesson On Guns And Gun Violence

You have to hand it to the gun manufacturers lobby. Children may be slaughtered, the death toll from firearms may keep mounting, but these guys are unrelenting and know how to play politics.

Last week’s successful recalls of two state legislators in Colorado because they supported their state’s new, carefully drawn gun law gave the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies exactly what they wanted: intimidating headlines. The one on ABC News’ Web site was representative: “Colorado Recall Elections Chill Push for New Gun Laws.”

This is how self-fulfilling prophesies are born. If matters stop there and the idea takes hold, the gun extremists will, indeed, win.

It would be great, of course, if all politicians were like Colorado Senate President John Morse, a former police chief, and state Sen. Angela Giron. Despite being recalled, both Democrats have been unrepentant about championing background checks and limiting gun magazines to 15 rounds.

“I spent years as a paramedic treating people who have been shot,” Morse said in a telephone interview. “I spent years as a police officer investigating situations in which people have been shot. I have been shot at myself. . . . I may have been voted out of office, but the bill stays, the law stays.”

Morse also cautioned proponents of stricter gun laws around the country not to read too much into a low-turnout election. He stressed the impact of a court decision that effectively barred mail-in ballots in the contests. Since 70 percent of Coloradans normally vote by mail, the ruling gave the highly energized opponents of the law a leg up. The latest count showed that Morse was defeated by only 343 votes, although Giron’s margin of defeat was wider.

Yet the intensity gap is precisely the problem.

Shortly after a background-check bill failed to get 60 votes in the U.S. Senate last April, a Pew survey found that 73 percent of Americans still backed the proposal while only 20 percent opposed it. But when respondents were asked if they’d refuse to vote for a candidate who disagreed with them on guns, those whose priority was to protect gun rights were more likely to say yes than those who thought it more important to control gun ownership. Even more significant, 12 percent of the gun-rights partisans said they had given money to groups on their side of the issue, compared with only 3 percent who believed in regulating gun ownership.

The gun lobby has a large base. Those seeking more sensible gun laws still need to build one.

Doing so requires them to grapple with the fact that political issues can carry meanings far beyond the specifics of policy. These days, we tend to celebrate the autonomy granted us by technology, geographical mobility and an economy of free agents. Yet a pollster who conducted focus groups on gun control told me recently of her surprise that talk about guns quickly turned into a discussion of what participants experienced as a weakening of solidarity and shared commitment.

Neighborhoods, they said, were no longer alliances of parents collectively keeping watch over the area’s kids, and they mourned the absence of a common understanding of the values that ought to be passed on to the next generation. Perhaps paradoxically, the stronger bonds of community they see unraveling had once given them more real control over their own lives.

The gun lobby responds to this lost world by saying: If you feel your power ebbing, grab a gun, and don’t let the elitists disarm you because they disdain your values and your way of life.

How to answer? Certainly Colorado shows that when sane legislation is enacted, its supporters need to sell the benefits far more effectively and to persuade more voters to see gun sanity as a make-or-break issue. And they should follow the NRA in never allowing setbacks to demobilize them.

But they also need to be clear that they seek background checks, smaller magazines and the like not to disempower gun owners but to liberate all of us from fears that madmen might gun down our children and wreak havoc in our communities.

Those of us who support gun regulations share with most gun owners a devotion to a rather old-fashioned world. We believe that the possession of firearms comes with responsibilities and that we need to take seriously our obligations to protect one another. Ours is the real fight for liberty. For if we become a society in which everyone has to be armed, we will truly have lost the most basic freedom there is.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 16, 2013

September 17, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Motivated Fanatics”: The Gun Control Debate And Our Civic Life

I Googled the phrase “stack them in the streets” because I was searching for a historical reference from 1968. I ended up stumbling on something else: an article from the far-right site MinutemanNews.com explaining what was really going on with the gun debate in Congress:

Once cowed at the thought of provoking Second Amendment supporters, leftists will soon attempt to ban ‘assault weapons’ (and much more) as legislation offered by Diane Feinstein makes its way to the Senate floor…. Maybe Democrats are confident that fallout from Sandy Hook will provide the floor votes necessary to disarm the American people. But if the left is willing to risk picking this fight with millions of American gun owners, it must also believe something far more important—that Americans who have spent years arming themselves against the ultimate expression of tyranny by their own government—the overthrow of the Second Amendment—will choose to not fight when the time finally comes.

It is illustrated with a Che-like logo of a machine gun’s silhouette and the legend “COME AND TAKE IT”—a slogan, which is crucial to know about if you want to understand the contemporary right, that I wrote about here.

And then, at MinutemenNews.com came the 420 comments:

“…we will run them like the british to the shores and they better hope theres a boat waiting for them to take there ass to Europe with rest of the sheeple. If not, the sharks are be eating good that week. They better hope we deside to show mercy long enuff for them to get on planes or ships to leave the usa….”

“thats right there could be a lot of dead LEFTIST!!”

Stack them in the streets like cordwood. There’s no room for prisoners.”

“Take members of Congress prisoner and hold them hostage because it is reported that many Federal Depts have ordered millions of rounds of hollow points supposedly to hold off civil unrest and insurrection. How long does the left think these Federal employees will hold out if many members of Congress are held as hostages…”

“Not hostage—Citizen Arrest. Their vote will provide the wanted list and their confession.”

“HELL NO, GITMOIZE THEM!”

“Bad time to be a politician. Dibs on shooting/hanging the President.”

How relevant should this stuff be, you ask, to one’s ordinary political reflections and calculations? After all, how many people can possibly read MinutemenNews.com? Well, let’s investigate. Deploying the algorithm at Ranking.com (and allowing that there’s no easily settled way to measure traffic), I compared the traffic there to some of the sites I read and have written for. CoreyRobin.com, the blog of the Brooklyn College professor who is my favorite political writer, ranks 144,234. The website of Campaign for America’s Future, where I published in 2007 and 2008, is at 41,870. Three of my regular lefty reading stops, the blogs Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Americablog, and Crooks and Liars—where I contributed regularly last year—rank 41,346 and 11,301 and 9,897, respectively. The homes of my online columnizing in 2006-07 and 2012, TNR.com and RollingStone.com, clock in at 8,481 and 7,263. TheNation.com? We are at 9,088.

MinutemenNews is in the middle of that pack: 12,600.

It is a reasonable surmise, then, that the author of “The Left Is Convinced Americans Won’t Fight for Second Amendment Rights” has at least as many or possibly more readers than I do. And look here: as much as I hate to admit it, its readers race leagues ahead of the lefty blog pack when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is: knocking on doors in campaigns, stuffing envelopes—and, don’t forget, showing up at political meetings with guns. As my favorite blogger Digby always reminds us, pissing in the wind as far as I can tell, committing politics while armed is the ultimate act of civic intimidation. I find it very hard to argue that the implicit threat by these people to shoot politicians and officers of the law who cross them—or better yet, to “stack them like cordwood”—does not provide some sort of unmeasurable advantage in political conflicts.

Gun nuts are the most motivated people in our politics. And now we’ve had a natural experiment to prove it: the first recall election in Colorado history was lost by two state senators who had the temerity to vote for legislation requiring background checks for firearms purchases and banning ammunition magazines over fifteen rounds.

A site called PolticusUSA.com pronounced with bafflement: “Colorado Voters Support Background Checks Yet Still Recall Lawmakers for Background Checks.” It headlined a nice roundup of data from the election last Tuesday. Senate president John Morse went down 51 to 49 in conservative Colorado Springs, and the other senator, Angela Giron, went down 56-44 in blue-collar Pueblo, both “not districts that lean heavily Republican.” Statewide, a Public Policy Polling survey found the weekend before the balloting that Colorado voters favored background checks by 68 to 27 percent. They concluded that this means Democrats might face trouble in the next statewide election, but I thought that was a dense conclusion. It was the issue here that was the issue—the issue of “politicians taking away our guns.”

“Intensity of commitment” is a difficult problem for political theory to analyze: is it a violation of the public will when fanatics motivate themselves so much more efficiently than moderates? (“The definition of ‘moderate,’” I once read a Barry Goldwater supporter noting in 1964, “is ‘someone who doesn’t knock on doors on election day.”) Is it “undemocratic” when a measure overwhelmingly favored by “ordinary” voters is defeated by conspiracy theorists who fear that a baby step designed to keep guns out of the hands of psychotics and criminals is actually a giant leap toward New World Order government? Or is it the essence of democracy?

I wish I knew.

But that’s an intellectual problem. The political answer is obvious. Don’t mourn. Expose the fact that the National Rifle Association and its acolytes violate all the bounds of civility that make democratic deliberation possible (most people simply don’t know this: the PPP found that the same Coloradans who want background checks by a margin of 68 to 27 percent also have a positive view of the NRA by a margin of 53 to 33 percent). Embarrass the pundits who refuse to recognize this. Tell the story that Digby’s been trying to tell: that guns at political events make democracy impossible. And don’t be moderate. Knock on doors on election day. Organize.

 

By: Rick Perlstein, The Nation, September 13, 2013

September 15, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Much Less Safe Neighborhood”: The NRA And The “Wave Of Fear” Prevails In Colorado

In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, several states took action in the hopes of preventing future gun violence. States like Delaware, New Jersey, and Connecticut each passed meaningful measures over the objections of far-right activists and the National Rifle Association.

So too did Colorado, where memories of the massacre at an Aurora movie theater were still fresh when the violence in Newtown occurred. Though the state has traditionally been resistant to gun reforms, lawmakers and Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) approved new measures in March to expand background checks and restrict high-capacity magazines — policies that even conservative Supreme Court justices have said are constitutional.

But the NRA and the right decided these efforts to reduce gun violence cannot stand, and they launched the first-ever recall elections in Colorado history. Yesterday, their gambit worked.

Two Colorado legislators who supported stricter gun control laws lost their jobs on Tuesday in an unprecedented recall election that became the center of the national debate over regulating firearms.

Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron were both defeated, the Denver Post reported, in the recall effort.

They’ll both be replaced with Republicans allied with the NRA, but this will not affect partisan control of Colorado’s state Senate, where Democrats will maintain a narrow majority.

Morse, a former police chief, was slated to leave office next year anyway, making his recall election more symbolic. Giron, first elected three years ago, has vowed to continue to find ways to serve her community.

Morse said last night, “We made Colorado safer from gun violence. If it cost me my political career, that’s a small price to pay.”

Let’s pause for a moment to ponder how remarkable it is that a respected lawmaker’s career had to end because he approved legal measures intended to prevent gun deaths.

The NRA, it’s worth noting, originally sought five recall elections against Democrats, but in the other three cases, the right-wing group failed to gather sufficient petition signatures.

But what, ultimately, was the point? If control of the state Senate was not at stake, Morse was retiring next year anyway, and the gun reforms aren’t going to be repealed anytime soon, why bother with multi-million-dollar recall elections with no precedent in state history?

The answer, of course, was that the NRA and far-right activists want to send a message to policymakers everywhere: efforts to prevent gun violence will end your career, too. Watch on YouTube

Indeed, the right has been quite explicit on this point. My colleague Laura Conaway posted this item a few weeks ago, featuring remarks from a local recall proponent.

For those who can’t watch clips online, the man in the video, Jon Caldara of the Colorado Independence Institute, argued:

“If the president of the Senate of Colorado, who did nothing except pass the laws that Bloomberg wrote, gets knocked out, there will be a shudder, a wave of fear that runs across every state legislator across the country, that says, ‘I ain’t doing that ever. That is not happening to me. I will not become a national embarrassment, I will not take on those guys.’ That’s how big this is.”

The goal of the NRA and its allies, then, was to create “a wave of fear.” Yesterday, they convinced just enough Coloradans who found this message appealing.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 11, 2013

September 12, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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