A few years ago, the strategy of gun-control advocates was obvious: File frivolous liability lawsuits against gun makers and distributors, knowing that, whatever the ultimate merits of the cases, the manufacturers would be hard-pressed to keep fighting. Many would go out of business, profits would decline for others, and the high costs imposed by endless litigation would drive up the costs of guns and make it more difficult for many people to afford to buy them.
It was a cynical strategy, but one that is about to end. A shift in political winds has changed the dynamic. A gain of four seats in the U.S. Senate by Republicans, and the realization by Democrats that their incessant anti-Second Amendment viewpoints have a political cost, resulted in a 65-31 vote last week in favor of a National Rifle Association-backed bill that would largely forbid lawsuits against gun makers and dealers when guns they produce or sell are used illegally.
Fourteen Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, joined the majority. The House of Representatives is expected to pass similar legislation next month and the president has already indicated his support for this type of legislation.
Gun-control supporters are decrying the measure as a payoff to the NRA. But using the NRA as a bogeyman without realizing the impetus behind the bill is foolish. “It’s a blatant special interest bill to protect gun makers and dealers, even if they make firearms recklessly available to criminals and terrorists,” said Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
Unfortunately, this type of hysteria is typical. The lawsuit ban is actually a straightforward, sensible piece of legislation that reinforces traditional legal precepts. Certainly, if a gun malfunctions and causes the user damage, or through a production flaw, misfires, then the harmed party should have — and will continue to have — recourse.
The legislation is about stopping an abuse of the tort system — an attack on a legal product that operates in the proper way. Gun makers and distributors should not be held liable if criminals use their products any more than a car manufacturer or dealer should be held liable if a car thief causes death and destruction by reckless driving.
Foes of this bill and foes of guns in general are quick to point to the frequent misuse of firearms and their role in crime. But they never mention the many times that firearms are used to protect citizens from crime, or the many legal uses for sport and hunting. They don’t mention the Second Amendment, one of the cornerstones of our free society.
Fortunately, a shift in politics in Congress has created a favorable shift toward gun rights.