The Myth Of Gun Industry Immunity

posted on November 2, 2015

Last month, a jury in Milwaukee, Wis., leveled $5 million in damages at Badger Guns, a firearms retailer accused of negligently selling a pistol to a straw purchaser. The actual recipient of the gun went on to shoot two police officers in the face with it; those officers were the ones to file the lawsuit. Lacking insider information about the case or the retailer in question, all we can say is that any firearms dealer that facilitates the kind of blatant straw purchasing that the plaintiffs alleged occurred here deserves to be financially liable. And they are liable—in this case, to quite a staggering sum. The PLCAA emphatically does not eliminate all liability for the gun industry.

Media outlets around the world pounced on this story as somehow signaling a defeat for the gun industry and, by extension, the NRA. It’s anyone’s guess why they thought that suing negligent retailers would hurt anyone else in the industry, much less outside of it. But anti-gun forces were starved for a victory, and this resembled one if you didn’t bother looking too closely. It’s the same strategy as Brady Campaign President Dan Gross hailing a national “tipping point” on gun control because Kim Kardashian tweeted something false about online gun sales.

What the media overwhelmingly missed (or willfully ignored) is how thoroughly the Badger Guns case explodes Hillary Clinton’s favorite line of attack against Bernie Sanders and the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which he supported. The PLCAA shields gun manufacturers and dealers from liability over acts committed with their guns. According to Hillary, “So far as I know, the gun industry and gun sellers are the only business in America that is totally free of liability for their behavior. Nobody else is given that immunity. And that just illustrates the extremism that has taken over this debate.” 

This is patently false. The PLCAA emphatically does not eliminate all liability for the gun industry. Manufacturers can be sued for making defective products; they can’t be sued because their products function properly in the wrong hands. Dealers are not liable if a gun they sell is used to shoot someone; they are liable if they should have known better than to sell it in the first place. Anti-gunners talk about “common-sense gun legislation” all the time, and that, to us, is a perfect description of the PLCAA. Why do you think Bernie Sanders—along with a host of other Democratic legislators—voted for itWe are a nation full of responsible gun manufacturers, responsible gun sellers and responsible gun owners. We don’t like straw purchasers, and we don’t like criminals getting their hands on firearms.

If the Badger Guns case demonstrates anything, it is that the PLCAA has largely cleared the field of the kind of frivolous litigation that anti-gunners love—the kind with no basis in reality, intended only to hurt upstanding businesses. Yet at the same time it in no way obstructs legitimate lawsuits against negligent firearms dealers. 

Hillary continues to repeat the same liability lie while hoping that no one is paying attention. Pretending that the PLCAA is broken allows her to kill two birds with one stone: She fires up her anti-gun base while beating up on her only formidable opponent for the Democratic nomination. Unfortunately for her, the PLCAA is looking airtight right now. 

And to the members of the media who cheered for the Badger Guns verdict as a slap in the face to the NRA: We are a nation full of responsible gun manufacturers, responsible gun sellers and responsible gun owners. We don’t like straw purchasers, and we don’t like criminals getting their hands on firearms. We think that stiffer penalties for the actual straw purchasers would be the most logical first step—but if dealers are rightly held accountable for acting with negligence, we will be first in line to celebrate.

Use Your Power!

Anti-gun politicians like Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama are obsessed with passing new legislation instead of simply enforcing the existing laws. Those who will tell you that the PLCAA needs to be “fixed” are the same ones calling for the country to help crime-ridden Chicago by emulating its gun laws. Hear what NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre has to say about enforcing the laws already on the books.


Don Young
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