Member, NRA Board of
|Op Ed: Fairness for Firearms Manufacturers|
The following was published in the November 7, 2005 issue of The Times. Clipping of the actual article
When a drunk driver kills someone, is the car manufacturer responsible? When an arsonist burns a building, is it the match manufacturer’s fault?
The obvious answer to these questions is no, and the same is true of firearms manufacturers when a criminal misuses their products.
This legal principle applies to all products – manufacturers are not at fault when a properly functioning product is misused by someone else. It’s common sense and firmly established law.
Yet for the past decade, gun ban extremists who could not achieve their political agenda in Congress have misused the courts in an attempt to sue the firearms industry out of existence. Their claim: that firearms manufacturers and sellers should be liable for the acts of criminals.
Several New Jersey courts have considered and rejected these claims. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the third circuit branded as an "absurdity" the notion that lawful manufacturers of non-defective, legal products could be held liable for actions of third parties outside of their direct control. Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders v. Berretta, U.S.A. Corp. et al., 273 F.3d 536 (3rd Cir.2001).
Nearly every other court in the country that has considered these claims has also dismissed them as frivolous. But defending against these junk lawsuits has cost the industry more than $200 million and threatened to bankrupt it. This is an industry that supplies our men and women in uniform with tools vital to our national security and their own personal survival. It also supplies peaceable, law-abiding citizens with firearms for self-defense and recreation, and their right to have firearms is protected by the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.
It is precisely because the the firearms industry has become prey to abusive, politically motivated frivolous litigation that Congress intervened last week when it passed S. 397, the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” signed into law by the President October 26. What the law does is end this decade-long abuse of the judicial system.
There is much misinformation being spread about this law, which passed with strong bi-partisan support nationwide. Gun ban extremists are making phony claims that the new law shields gun makers and gives them special immunity. They call the law a giveaway to the gun lobby that deprives victims of their day in court. These myths are completely false and are being perpetuated to scare the public and demonize gun makers, who in the final analysis are manufacturers of a product that is lawful to make, sell, and own.
Here’s what the law actually does and does not do:
It doesn’t give gun makers any more protection than any other industry. It simply assures that they have the same protection from liability for wrongful acts of third parties that other industries already enjoy. If you can’t sue General Motors when a drunk driver plows into a crowd, then you can’t sue a firearms maker when a criminal misuses a gun. This is not special treatment; it’s equal treatment. The unfortunate part is that it took an act of Congress to restore fairness to the process.
Gun manufacturers and sellers are still liable for defective products or for violating any of the 10,000+ U.S. laws regulating gun sales. “Straw” sales, failure to account for sales, “missing” firearms, design and function defects, and the like, still subject the wrongdoers to civil or criminal liability. Claims to the contrary are a complete fabrication – as even a quick glance at the law’s text will demonstrate to anyone taking the time to do so. Crimes by gun makers and sellers are still crimes, and those injured by defective or malfunctioning firearms will still have their day in court.
The firearms industry is among the most highly regulated industries in America. The thousands of laws, rules and regulations with which gun makers and sellers must comply are highly detailed and complex, and they carry severe penalties for their violation. This new law does nothing to change that.
The histrionics of the gun ban movement are based on fear and misunderstanding of the role that firearms play in a free society. Private firearms ownership insures personal safety when police are delayed or unavailable, as Americans recently witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The breakdown of law and order in New Orleans forced law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and their loved ones. The Second Amendment was written for exactly that type of situation.
Firearms manufacturers and sellers play an important role in this dynamic. They should not be forced to perpetually defend against baseless predatory lawsuits simply because some special interest groups cannot comprehend their societal value and want to destroy them.
The passage of this law came with strong bi-partisan support because it is based on sound principles of law and common sense. Criminal acts committed with lawful products – whether a car, a match, or a firearm – cannot and should not be a basis of liability for the manufacturer, and all this law does is reaffirm that principle.
—Scott L. Bach