Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal with Reps. Reps. Jason Crow, D-Co., Dwight Evans, D-Pa., ,and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla.

Washington – After Lonnie and Sandy Phillips lost their 24-year-old daughter, Jessi, in a 2012 mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Co., the couple tried to sue the online retailer who sold their daughter’s killer 4,000 rounds of armor-piercing ammunition without a background check.

But because a federal law gives gun retailers and gun manufacturers unique legal protections, the Phillips’ lawsuit was dismissed. The couple not only had to pay their own legal fees, but a judge ordered them to pay the retailer, Lucky Gunner, $200,000 to cover its legal expenses.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy have been trying for years to level that legal playing field to help people like the Phillips and other victims of gun violence seeking to sue the gun industry, including a group of Sandy Hook families.

On Tuesday, the senators introduced a bill for the fourth time that would repeal the gun industry’s legal protections.

Those protections were obtained in 2005 with Congress’ approval of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA, which shields firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable when crimes have been committed with their products. A similar bill was introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., for the third time, in the U.S. House.

The Democratic lawmakers hope their bill, called the “Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act,”will bolster wrongful death lawsuits filed by the families of nine victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting against Remington Arms, the manufacturer of the rifle used in the massacre.

“All we are doing is giving victims of gun violence their day in court,” Blumenthal said.

As a former trial lawyer, Blumenthal said the “sweeping immunity” the gun industry has from lawsuits “is an abomination.”

Murphy said the gun industry has the ability use technology to make guns safer.

“But as long as the industry has no financial reason – because it can’t be sued – that technology won’t see the light of day,” Murphy said.

The National Rifle Association, which prodded Congress to pass PLCAA, said gun manufacturers can still be sued for negligent design or manufacturing of a product and dealers can still be sued for knowingly selling to a prohibited person.

“Suing a gun manufacturer for the illegal use of their product is like suing Ford when a drunk driver runs over a pedestrian,” the NRA said in a past statement on the issue.

The Connecticut Citizens Defense League also slammed the senator’s effort to repeal PLCAA.

Gun manufacturers face the same product liability that all companies face if their products are defective in some way,” said CCDL President Scott Wilson.” However, unending frivolous lawsuits for product misuse would simply bankrupt firearms companies. No one would be able to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights if lawmakers have their way with this bill. That fact should concern all Americans.”

To avoid the PLCAA pitfall that bedeviled Colorado parents Lonnie and Sandy Phillip, the Sandy Hook families sued under  the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, saying Remington violated state law by marketing a military-style weapon to civilians.

The Connecticut Supreme Court in March ruled 4-3 that Connecticut law “does not permit advertisements that promote or encourage violent, criminal behavior.” And while federal law does offer protection for gun manufacturers, the state Supreme Court determined “Congress did not intend to immunize firearms suppliers who engage in truly unethical and irresponsible marketing practices promoting criminal conduct…,” remanding the case back to the trial court.

Remington has appealed that unfavorable ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Josh Koskoff, an attorney who represents the Sandy Hook families, said the case against Remington is based “on exceptions in PLCAA that Congress purposefully included, so repeal would not have any bearing on our case”

“That said, the families fully support the repeal of PLCAA,” he said. “There is no industry less deserving of special protection by Congress than the firearms industry. Because of PLCAA, gun manufacturers believe they are above the law and have acted accordingly without regard for public safety.”

Chaos at the NRA

Still, Blumenthal said the repeal of PLCAA “would be a powerful boost,” for those who seek to sue the gun industry, like the Sandy Hook families.

“This measure is still a barrier to them,” he said.

At a press conference on Tuesday outside the U.S. Capitol with Schiff and Reps. Jason Crow, D-Co., Dwight Evans, D-Pa., and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., Blumenthal and Murphy said times have changed since Congress approved PLCAA in 2005 and the National Rifle Association no longer has the same stranglehold on lawmakers.

There may be some truth to that. The NRA is beset by a widening corruption scandal, with the Washington Post reporting that NRA board members benefited from lucrative sweetheart deals.

Upheaval  at the NRA, including the ouster of Oliver North as the organization’s president, prompted its longtime advertising and public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen, to end its relationship with the gun group after 38 years because “the NRA’s chaos led us to lose faith.”

While a PLCAA repeal stands a chance of approval by in the U.S. House, which is controlled by Democrats, the GOP-led Senate is not likely to take up a PLCAA repeal – or any legislation that tightens federal regulations of guns.

The Democratic lawmakers said it might take time, and pressure from constituents, to get the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act approved in the Senate.

“But we will get a repeal of PLCAA,” Murphy predicted.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro is trying to shepherd $50 million for gun violence research through Congress

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, took a different approach to the issue of gun violence.

This week, the U.S. House will vote on the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill, which would, for the first time in 20 years, include funding to support firearm injury and mortality prevention research at the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

DeLauro, the chairwoman of the House Labor, HHS and Education Appropriation subcommittee, included $50 million for gun violence research in the bill that would fund those agencies next year.

“The epidemic of gun violence is a public health emergency and it demands public health research,” DeLauro said .”For more than two decades, Congress has failed to fund critical gun violence prevention research. We are going to change that this year.”

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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6 Comments

  1. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to envision the end game of these efforts. When manufacturers are sued out of business for the actions of bad actors who use their guns, our globalist gun grabber Senators will then go after the inventory of guns owned by legal owners. Meanwhile, in realityville, people are gunned down by the thousands in our cities each year by folks who don’t care a wit about gun laws and whose actions are ignored by these same Senators.

    we are rotting from within in our country- no need for foreign intervention to destroy us.

  2. There are 400 million firearms in this country, with an average of 14k firearm related homicides per year. About 2k of those are ruled self defense/justified and about 500 of those are ruled accidental. Nearly – and I mean NEARLY – all remaining firearm deaths are criminal on criminal actions. Do the research – the numbers are there (2015 crime data).

    Now there are 250 million automobiles in this country with an average of 40k deaths per year related to them. On average 11 teenagers in the US die in texting related accidents every day. So why do we make phones that communicate when in motion? Why do we make cars that go faster than the speed limit? Does this mean we can start suing the automobile industry when someone dies in a car that was being used as it was intended?

    One in every five drowning deaths in the US are children under the age of 14. And for every child who dies from drowning another 5 receive emergency department care for non-fatal submersion injuries. Children, having a household swimming pool are 19-25 times more likely to die in it than with a firearm. In fact, the overall number of swimming pool deaths per 100k is 8.38. That is TWICE the rate for the number of firearm homicides per 100k. Why do we still allow swimming pools? Should we start suing pool manufacturers because people die while using the pool as it was intended?

    And just to dirty the water a bit more – the US performs 650k abortions every year (again, compared to 14k firearm homicides). Why do those fetuses deserve to be terminated? If all life is precious and must be saved from all the evil firearms out there why do we terminate fetuses at nearly 50 times higher rate than actual firearm homicides? The truth is that Pro-Choice is responsible for far, far more lives ending than any Pro Second Amendment group ever has been.

  3. Like GE and now Pratt who are moving their headquarters out of Connecticut, Stag Arms is also leaving Connecticut but guns and aircraft & flight/space systems are still legal in the USA. I guess that is what the people want and voted for so they are getting what they voted for. Democracy in action is also working to the extent that residents and companies are exercising their right to leave the state.

  4. The PLCAA actually DID level the playing field. It made the firearms industry no more or less liable for misuse of their products than any other manufacturer, It also made nuisance or politically motivated law suits a thing of the past. Make no mistake, using someone’s product illegally is not the fault of the manufacturer, and never can be. If the product operates as designed, just like a pickup, then it is the responsibility of the individual who uses that product and breaks the law, not the manufacturer,

  5. Virtually every knowledgeable commentator/analyst of our gun violence starts by focusing on the enormity of 300 million guns in circulation. Not on stopping new manufacture/distribution. Even with a complete moratorium on US/imported weapons destined for civilians the sheer enormity of the 300 million in circulation seems beyond our ability to comprehend as to how to prevent their violent unintended use.

  6. If I’m in a crash and get injured, I’m going to sue the car manufacturer. Sounds correct, right? When are these guys going to realize the gun does not act on it’s own but is in the hand of a human. Not ONE of any of these “mass killings” have been perpetrated by a NRA member. But it is a gun so you have to go after the organization that wants to uphold the 2nd amendment.

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