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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

“A Visceral Reaction Like None Before”: The Gun-Vote Backlash Has Only Just Begun

As the Boston area was gripped by the manhunt that followed the Marathon bombings late last week, the opinion pages of the Concord Monitor just up the road in New Hampshire were consumed with another subject: Senator Kelly Ayotte’s vote against legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases. The paper’s lead editorial Sunday decried Ayotte’s rationale for opposing the bill as “utter nonsense” and an “abomination.” The letters to the editor section is riddled with anti-Ayotte broadsides, the tenor of which are conveyed by their headlines: “Ayotte’s vote should propel her out of office.” “Beyond disappointed.” “Ayotte did not represent her New Hampshire constituents.” “Enabler of murderers.” “Ayotte’s ‘courage.’” “Craven pandering.” “Reckless vote.” “Illogical vote.”

If gun control advocates are going to have any chance of resurrecting reforms after last week’s crushing defeat, much is going to depend on the depth of the initial backlash against the Democratic or swing-state Republican senators who opted to vote with the gun lobby. In a piece the day after the vote, I lamented that some leading liberals and mainstream media types were so willing to chalk the vote up to the predictable dynamics of the gun control issue, thereby essentially letting the senators who cast the crucial votes against the legislation off the hook for their decisions. One major columnist avoided holding accountable the senators who took the actual votes by wishing that President Barack Obama had acted more like a president in a movie.

But there are signs that the reaction against the vote will be stronger than what has followed prior setbacks for the cause. First, of course, there was the angry cri de coeur from Gabby Giffords. On Friday came spontaneous protests around the country at district offices of senators who voted no. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has set up a number for people to text so they can be patched through to the office of a senator who went the other way. “In years past when we lost on a vote, we had to generate [reaction], we had to push people,” says Brian Malte, the group’s director of mobilization. “This time it’s just directing it to the right place. It’s ‘I’m so angry, what should I do?’”

Perhaps the most surprising outburst came from Bill Daley, the former Clinton commerce secretary, JP Morgan Chase executive and Obama chief of staff. Daley, son and brother of the Chicago mayors of the same name, is no one’s idea of a conscience liberal—in fact, he was a leading voice during the past two decades for making the Democratic Party more welcoming to centrist types, be they pro-business moderates like himself or red-state working-class voters who, yes, cling to their guns. But there he was in Sunday’s Washington Post excoriating the four Senate Democrats who voted against the background-check legislation, particularly Heidi Heitkamp, the newly elected North Dakotan who does not face voters again for another five years:

I want my money back. Last October, I gave $2,500 to support Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign to become North Dakota’s junior senator. A few weeks later, she won a surprise victory. But this week, Heitkamp betrayed those hopes. She voted to block legislation to make gun background checks more comprehensive. Her vote — along with those of 41 Republicans and three other Democrats — was a key reason the measure fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage.

Polling has shown that nine in 10 Americans and eight in 10 gun owners support a law to require every buyer to go through a background check on every gun sale. In North Dakota, the support was even higher: 94 percent. Yet in explaining her vote, Heitkamp had the gall to say that she “heard overwhelmingly from the people of North Dakota” and had to listen to them and vote no. It seems more likely that she heard from the gun lobby and chose to listen to it instead.

Daley is just one person, but this seems pretty significant to me, as a sort of signal to establishment Democrats nationwide. For so long, party poo-bahs have cosseted Democrats from red or purple districts on issues such as gun control—heck, Daley’s fellow Chicagoan Rahm Emanuel deliberately picked pro-gun candidates to run for the House in 2006. Some liberals still seem inclined to cut the Gang of Feckless Four a lot of slack. But here is Daley turning the frame on its head—instead of making excuses for Heitkamp et al, he praised the Democrats running for reelection in tough states who did for the legislation, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan. They, not Heitkamp and the other three no’s (Max Baucus, Mark Begich and Mark Pryor) will be getting his money from now on, he said.

On the Republican side, the accountability will be left up to the voters in swing states like New Hampshire or Ohio, where Rob Portman also voted against the legislation (after letting it be known that he couldn’t cross party lines on guns after having already done so on gay marriage). It is not at all hard to envision a Democrat running against Kelly Ayotte on a law-and-order-line—here she was, a former attorney general, voting to leave a huge loophole in our system for making sure that felons are unable to purchase guns.

Of course, it won’t be easy. Ayotte, for one, is not even up for reelection until 2016, allowing plenty of time for the memory of her vote to recede in voters’ minds. As political scientists note, the unique circumstances of the gun debate still plays to the advantage of the NRA. But as my colleague Nate Cohn argues, the NRA’s sway has been overstated for some time now—the fact is, not a few senators have managed to survive in purple or red states despite consistently voting against the gun lobby. Last week’s setback was a sign that some senators were not yet willing to embrace that reality, and by doing so, they of course further enshrined facile assumptions of NRA prowess.

But their votes do seem to have produced a visceral reaction unlike any we’ve seen for some time on this front. And rightly so. It would take a jaded soul indeed to feel nothing on reading, say, of the scene Wednesday night in the Oval Office when some of the families who lost children in the Newtown massacre learned that 45 senators had not seen it in them to vote for even the most measured, limited reform: “Mr. Obama hugged the brother of one victim, Daniel Barden, who was 7, and told him to take care of his mother, who was sobbing quietly.”


By: Alec MacGillis, The New Republic, April 23, 2013

April 25, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Freedom To Live In Fear”: One Wonders How Much More Of This “Freedom” We Can Take

“Everybody got a pistol. This must really please the NRA” — from “Gun” by Gil Scott-Heron

So maybe the NRA is about to get its wish.

Here we are, a little over three weeks after the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, CT, a little over two weeks after the National Rifle Association said there should henceforth be armed guards at every school, and at least one school system, Marlboro Township in New Jersey, is taking its advice. Under a 90-day pilot program in partnership with local police, students who returned to school last week found their campuses patrolled by armed officers.

But here’s the thing. If this is truly a good idea — “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre in a news conference — then why stop there? After all, it is not just our schools that are being shot up. So let us follow this advice to its logical end.


Four firefighters in upstate New York were shot, two of them killed, on Christmas Eve when they responded to a call and were ambushed by a man with a semiautomatic rifle. So we should have armed guards on all our fire trucks.

Two customers were killed two days before Christmas when armed men opened fire with semiautomatic handguns inside a grocery store in Delray Beach, FL. So we should have armed guards at all our grocery stores.

Two people were killed and one injured on Dec. 11 by a gunman who started shooting at a shopping mall near Portland, OR. So we should have armed guards at all our shopping malls.

Two people were killed and two others injured Nov. 6 when an employee started shooting inside a chicken-processing plant in Fresno, CA. So we should have armed guards at all our chicken-processing plants.

One man was killed and five others wounded in a shooting at a New Year’s Eve party in a private residence in Lakewood, CA. So we should have armed guards at all our private residences.

One man was killed, a pregnant woman and her unborn child wounded, in a Dec. 9 drive-by shooting on a street corner in Miami. So we should have armed guards on every street corner.

That list, by the way, represents only a random sampling of recent shootings, most so run-of-the-mill, so plain-vanilla ordinary, they didn’t even make news outside their local areas, which should give you an idea of how common gunfire in this country is. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, nearly 98,000 of us are shot each year, a figure that includes law enforcement activity. That’s nearly 268 a day, 11 every hour.

By the reasoning of the NRA, you do not address that sad state of affairs by crafting laws that strive to balance the rights of responsible gun owners with the need to block the irresponsible, the dangerous, the criminal-minded, the unhinged, from access to these WMDs. No, by the NRA’s reasoning, the solution to too many guns is more guns still.

The organization frames this as a defense of freedom. To which the best rejoinder is provided by Gil Scott-Heron in the song quoted above: “Freedom to be afraid is all you won.”

It is a trenchant observation. Just the other day, two seventh-graders in Tillamook, OR. found a handgun, with a round in the chamber and the safety off, on the floor in a movie theater. It had apparently slipped out of the holster of one Gary Warren Quackenbush, 61, who said he felt the need for protection as he watched The Hobbit.

Quackenbush reportedly feared someone might shoot up the place — as happened in Aurora,CO, last July during a Batman movie. So add movie theaters to the list of places we should have armed guards. We are a people shot through with fear, a nation under the gun.

And one wonders how much more of this “freedom” we can take.


By: Leonard Pitts, The National Memo, January 7, 2013

January 8, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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