In 2004, the families of eight gunshot victims sued the manufacturer and dealer of the Bushmaster XM-15 used in the D.C. Sniper rampage for negligence. They won. The New York Times reported, "Under the terms of the settlement, Bushmaster Firearms Inc. of Windham, Maine, the gun's maker, will pay $550,000 to the victims' families; Bull's Eye Shooter Supply of Tacoma, Wash., the gun dealer, will pay $2 million."
What about the families from the Amish schoolhouse shootings? Virginia Tech? The 2007 Northern Illinois University shooting? The Gabby Giffords shooting in Tucson? The Carson City, Nev., IHOP massacre in 2011? The Aurora Theater shooting? Or the parents of the first-graders gunned down in Newtown?
Those families will never have their proverbial day in court with gun dealers thanks entirely to what is known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005. A Republican House and Senate sent George W. Bush a piece of legislation shielding gun dealers and makers from lawsuits, ensuring they cannot be held liable for any crimes committed with their products.
In essence it curbs the rights of Americans to obtain redress for wrongs -- the basic idea of tort laws.
Wayne LaPierre said of the Arms Act, "This is a historic day for freedom. I would like to thank President Bush for signing the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in 20 years into law. History will show that this law helped save the American firearms industry from collapse under the burden of these ruinous and politically motivated lawsuits."
This act of Congress wasn't about the Second Amendment. It wasn't about individual rights whatsoever. It was based on the Commerce Clause of the Constitution -- commerce, meaning business regulations, not personal liberty.
So let's recap: The ATF doesn't have a full-time agency head. It's under-funded and unable to criminally prosecute gun dealers and straw purchasers. Studies have indicated straw purchasers are the number one way guns flood our streets and get into the hands of "bad guys." The agency that should be cracking down on this doesn't have the funding or the leadership. And thanks, again, to the Feds (Congress) weapon profiteers can't be held civilly liable either. What a wonderful time to be a gun manufacturer.
These arms dealers get to spend their profits to spread Obama-will-take-away-our-guns propaganda, hence driving up sales of their deadly products, which are all reward and no risk to them.
It's like the Wild West but the Wild West had more gun control enforcement.
The Arms Act hoped also to thwart a trend of lawsuits by cities and counties claiming they were picking up the tab for gun violence which could be avoided if the manufacturers made weapons safer (trigger locks, etc.), to save the industry from becoming the "next tobacco." The Detroit Free Press reported in 1999, gun violence cost taxpayers $850 million a year in medical care, increased security, prison costs, lost tax revenues, decreased property values, police salaries and court costs. New Orleans was the first city to try and make the case that gun manufacturers were in fact negligent.
But not now. Not after the GOP gleefully passed the Arms Act.
The industry has lobbied to give themselves blanket immunity. Those who make their living off of making and selling deadly weapons have never had it so good. There is no other industry that gets this kind of freedom. They're free from innovation and market forces. There's no other industry (especially one that can easily be held responsible for so many American deaths) that isn't susceptible to criminal or civil entanglements. It's a charmed industry Congress rigged to be successful and bullet proof. If only we all could be so lucky.
From the street level, the gun dealers' golden era looks distinctly dystopian.
Any talk of gun safety needs to include tort restoration. Give us back our right to take manufacturers who neglect to make their products safer to court. Give us back our right to hold dealers accountable when they turn a blind eye to selling to straw purchasers and the mentally ill.
Gun owning is about personal responsibility? Then gun dealing should be too.
Nationally syndicated columnist TINA DUPUY
is an award-winning writer and the editor-in-chief