Election Section

Should Sanders Be Criticized For Opposing Lawsuits Against Gun Manufacturers?

Ralph E. Stone
Friday April 08, 2016 - 03:21:00 PM

Bernie Sanders is being criticized for opposing Sandy Hook victims' efforts to sue gun manufacturers, saying that gun manufacturers and dealers generally should not be held responsible for criminal misuse of the guns they supply. Is this criticism of Sanders justified?  

Consider that in response to a spate of lawsuits against gun manufacturers, the NRA pushed for passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCA Act), which was passed in 2005. The PLCA Act shields the gun industry from liability for negligence. Sanders voted for the PLCA Act while Hillary Clinton voted against it.  

Under the PLCA Act, gun manufacturers could be held liable if a gun is defective. However, they could not be sued if the shooter killed or wounded someone. After all, killing and wounding are purposes for which the gun was made. Sanders recently defended the PLCA Act saying, "If somebody has a gun and it falls into the hands of a murderer and that murderer kills somebody with the gun, do you hold the gun manufacturer responsible?" There have been some calls for overturning the PLCA Act but given its past history, a Republican-led Congress is unlikely to overturn the PLCA Act. 

In 2008, the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller ruled that the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to "keep and bear arms." It follows then that the manufacture and sale of guns must be legal too.  

Absent the PLCA Act, a gun manufacturer might be held liable if a gun it manufactured was used to murder someone on a strict liability theory. In tort law, strict liability is the imposition of liability on a party without a finding of fault (such as negligence or tortious intent). The claimant need only prove that the tort occurred and that the defendant was responsible. The law imputes strict liability to situations it considers to be inherently dangerous.  

And absent the PLCA Act, the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings and other mass shootings would at least have their day in court, which would be a much needed spotlight on the business of gun manufacture in the U.S. 

Sanders should be criticized for voting for the PLCA Act but should he be criticized for stating what the current state of the law is?