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Gunmakers could be sued over shootings under new bills in Congress

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). (Alex Edelman/Zuma Press/TNS)
June 13, 2019

Victims of gun violence and their families could be allowed to sue gunmakers in a new bill proposed by Democrats in the House and Senate on Tuesday.

In the past, gun and ammunition manufacturers, dealers and trade groups have had immunity from most civil lawsuits attempting to hold them accountable for incidents involving the unlawful use of a gun, but under the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, that would change, NPR reported.

The bills would reverse the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that was signed by then-President George W. Bush. Afterward, state and federal courts “dismissed numerous cases against the gun industry,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, co-sponsor of the House version of the bill.

Schiff said the bill has been introduced to “correct the error Congress made.”

House and Senate Democrats have introduced legislation that would allow victims of gun violence to sue gun and ammunition manufacturers.

“The gun industry should not enjoy special privileges and protections, especially while our nation is plagued by an epidemic of mass shootings and everyday gun violence. Every murderous act cannot be prevented by one single measure but ensuring that the gun industry – like all other industries – is held accountable for negligent behavior is a critical element of a comprehensive approach,” Schiff said in a statement on his website.

“This bill would pierce the gun industry’s liability shield by putting an end to the special protections the gun industry receives when they shirk their fundamental responsibility to act with reasonable care for the public safety. Victims of gun violence deserve their day in court,” Schiff added.

Other co-sponsors of the House bill include Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Jason Crow, and Dwight Evans. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy have co-sponsored the Senate version.

Sen. Blumenthal said, “All we’re doing through this proposal is giving victims of gun violence their day in court. Every other industry has to pay punitive damages if it intentionally and purposefully violates [a] standard of care toward the community. That will provide a powerful incentive as it has done in tobacco, in automobiles, in pharmaceutical drugs, for safer products,” according to NPR.

The bill is fully supported by gun violence prevention groups including Moms Demand Action, Brady and March for Our Lives.

Lawrence Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms trade association told NPR, “we will certainly oppose this legislation.”

“You would no more charge or blame Ford or General Motors for drunk driving accidents,” Keane added.

The Connecticut Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision in March, which decided that families of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims could sue Remington Arms in accordance with state late.

The ruling was decided on the rationale that Remington Arms conducted negligent marketing of military-style weapons to members of the public.

At the time, Blumenthal called it a “narrow victory for the Sandy Hook victims” that allows families to “go back to the trial court and seek to prove their case. It was by no means a total victory for them.”

Democrats have been trying to get the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act reversed for years, but are hopeful for success since the NRA has been accused of monetary negligence and ties with Russia.

Rep. Mucarsel-Powell declared, “It is a new day in Congress. We will not stop, regardless of the Senate majority leader [Mitch McConnell] ignoring the pleas of the American people.”