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“Gun Debate Reclaims Center Stage In Democratic Race”: Granting Gun Manufacturers Immunity From Lawsuits

The bulk of the attention surrounding Bernie Sanders’ interview with the New York Daily News this week focused on the senator struggling at times with policy details. In response to a variety of questions, the Vermont independent gave responses such as, “It’s something I have not studied”; “I don’t know the answer to that”; and “I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.”

But another area of contention surrounds a subject Sanders understands perfectly well.

Towards the end of the interview, the Daily News editors noted, “There’s a case currently waiting to be ruled on in Connecticut. The victims of the Sandy Hook massacre are looking to have the right to sue for damages the manufacturers of the weapons. Do you think that that is something that should be expanded?” Sanders, seeking clarification, said, “Do I think the victims of a crime with a gun should be able to sue the manufacturer, is that your question?”

Told that it was the question, he replied, “No, I don’t.”

As Politico reported, this isn’t sitting well with some of the lawsuit’s Democratic supporters.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and Gov. Dannel Malloy attacked Bernie Sanders on Tuesday for stating that shooting victims should not be able to sue gun manufacturers, an issue that has dogged the Vermont senator throughout his presidential run.

“I don’t know why our party would nominate someone that’s squishy on the issue of guns, this is a very personal issue for those of us that represent Sandy Hook,” Murphy, who is a supporter of Hillary Clinton, said in an interview with POLITICO. “The idea that Sandy Hook families should be completely barred from court is really backwards and unfair.”

Keep in mind that Connecticut’s Democratic presidential primary is April 26, just a week after New York’s. The state’s governor and both of its U.S. senators have already formally endorsed Clinton.

It’s important to note that, in Monday’s interview, Sanders elaborated on his perspective on this issue. After expressing his opposition to lawsuits targeting gun manufacturers, the senator circled back to add some specificity to his position: “In the same sense that if you’re a gun dealer and you sell me a gun and I go out and I kill him [gestures to someone in room]…. Do I think that that gun dealer should be sued for selling me a legal product that he misused? [Shakes head no.] But I do believe that gun manufacturers and gun dealers should be able to be sued when they should know that guns are going into the hands of wrong people. So if somebody walks in and says, ‘I’d like 10,000 rounds of ammunition,’ you know, well, you might be suspicious about that. So I think there are grounds for those suits, but not if you sell me a legal product.”

In other words, the senator’s position has some nuance, even if it’s one of the few issues in which Sanders faces criticism from the left.

Complicating matters further, Paul Waldman explained yesterday that Sanders’ previous approach to the issue points to some relevant shifts.

It gets complicated because of Sanders’ past opposition to gun laws. He opposed the Brady Law, and supported the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a 2005 law that granted gun manufacturers and sellers sweeping immunity from all kinds of lawsuits (Clinton voted against it). He has justified that vote by saying that he wouldn’t want to see “mom and pop” gun stores sued when a gun they sell gets used in a crime, but the truth is that the bill went way beyond that. […]

And here’s what’s really strange: Sanders continues to defend his vote for the PLCAA, even though he recently signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill that would repeal it.

The result is a picture that’s a little murky. As the Democratic race continues, it’s an issue that appears ripe for a real, substantive debate.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 7, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Gun Manufacturers, Mass Shootings, Sandy Hook | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Gun Industry Must Not Be Shielded From Liability”: Bloodshed Is Moving The Needle On The Question Of Liability For The Gun Industry

Hillary Clinton pounded Sen. Bernie Sanders for his gun rights record during the first Democratic presidential debate, all but calling him a BFF of the NRA.

Clinton’s argument was that Sanders’ support for the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which prohibited lawsuits against gun sellers and manufacturers for the unlawful misuse of a firearm, means that he isn’t serious about stemming gun violence in America.

With his vote, Clinton charged, Sanders supplied immunity from liability to the only industry in America that has it. “Everybody else has to be accountable but not the gun manufacturers,” she said. As a senator, Clinton had voted against the bill.

She might not have been aware that within hours of her comments, that law — long considered nearly insurmountable — had taken a major hit. A Milwaukee jury awarded two police officers more than $5 million in damages, holding the owners of a gun store negligent for selling a semi-automatic pistol purchased through a straw buyer.

One of the officers, Graham Kunisch, now retired, was said to not show any emotion when the civil verdict was reached, according to the New York Times. He couldn’t, his lawyer said, because of the brain injury he suffered after being shot in the head by the gun.

Staff at Badger Guns, the defendant, should have been more suspicious that the pistol was being bought for an 18-year-old who stood alongside the straw buyer, attorneys argued. The younger man, now serving 80 years for shooting the policemen, strode into the store with the buyer, helped pick out the gun, left the store to get more cash together for the purchase, and watched as the straw buyer fumbled filling out the paperwork. On the form, the buyer admitted that he wasn’t the intended owner but then changed his answer.

Red flags had been everywhere, the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued. The jury agreed. That almost never happens in America. One of the reasons it doesn’t is a 2005 law that Clinton says she intends to repeal (and that Sanders agrees needs to be revisited).

The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act passed after major lobbying by the National Rifle Association. George W. Bush signed it. To the gun lobby, the bill was seen as necessary to protect the gun dealers and manufacturers from being bankrupted by a slew of cases being filed nationwide at the time.

Gun safety advocates had a strategy to move manufacturers toward devoting more attention to safety features on firearms and for sellers to improve ways to ensure that they were selling to legal buyers.

The idea was to treat gun safety as a matter of public health. Car manufacturers, after all, hadn’t eagerly added seatbelts and other safety devices to vehicles. They did so under public pressure and after being held accountable by the courts.

Passage of the immunity law circumvented that approach to the manufacture and sale of firearms.

But times have changed in the decade since the law was passed. The public is all too aware of the toll of firearm violence: dead children slaughtered in mass shootings, women murdered because men with records of domestic violence aren’t stopped from buying guns, a yearly toll of 19,000 gun suicides. Bloodshed is moving the needle on the question of liability for the gun industry. But only a smidgen.

The NRA has filled people’s heads with the nonsense that it is unfair to expect a seller to know whether a gun he sells will be used later in a crime. Really? Even if the gun is sold to a known criminal, someone under age or a person with a record of domestic violence?

What’s missing are the other pieces of smart gun safety. Gun shows should no longer be places where guns are bought and sold without any scrutiny. The tracking of guns that wind up at crime scenes must improve. Records of who should be barred from ownership need to be readily accessible and comprehensive. And the public needs to come to grips with the fact that there are no magic formulas to predict who might act out violently with a gun due to a mental health condition. Most people with mental illness are not violent.

A great sense of responsibility ought to come with being licensed to sell a product designed to take human life. It’s far past time that gun manufacturers and sellers come to grips with that moral and civic duty.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, October 16, 2015

October 17, 2015 Posted by | Gun Lobby, Gun Manufacturers, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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