Despite considerable policy differences on the old continent, one issue almost entirely unites Europeans: gun control. This is currently reflected through legislators, who, despite the apparent ineffectiveness of current gun regulation, continue to infringe on the right to bear arms.
The EU Commission in Brussels agreed on stricter gun laws last December, with EU interior ministers deciding on new measures despite several members, including the Czechs, voting against it. The new directive institutes a complete ban on semi-automatic firearms, tightens regulations on online purchases, and allows for an exchange of information about gun owners across the continent.
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Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has claimed that the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) makes a gun “the only product of its kinds for which Congress has given the industry extensive freedom from liability.” However, the PLCAA afforded no protections to the arms industry that did not already exist for all industries. Activists are targeting this law because it prevents the anti-gun lobby from using the legal system to bypass the legislature and cripple the lawful sale of arms, as Healy is attempting to do in Massachusetts.
The PLCAA, which was passed with bipartisan support, only shields manufacturers under a narrow set of circumstances. It prevents innocent firearms manufacturers from being held liable when criminals misuse their products. To understand the opposition, one must understand the nature of the lawsuits it was written to prevent.
Liability for What They Did, Not What They Didn’t Do
Many have heard of “strict products liability” but are unsure of exactly what it means. If one thinks that it simply means that a manufacturer must pay for any harm its goods cause, the argument against the PLCAA might make some sense. However, that is far from the reality.
Generally, manufacturers and dealers are held liable for any harm caused by products sold “in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user.” This includes manufacturing defects, unsafe design, and inadequate warnings. This means a plaintiff need not prove the manufacturer was at fault; he need only prove the existence of a defect. So, if a product is deemed “unreasonably dangerous,” a manufacturer would almost certainly lose a lawsuit involving harm from that product. This is why the anti-gun crowd salivates at this type of liability.
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The Democratic primary has become increasingly antagonistic over the past few months, with Hillary Clinton continually lambasting Bernie Sanders for his support of immunity for gun manufacturers.
These repeated attacks have caused Sanders to abandon what was perhaps the only moderate plank of his candidacy, with the Vermont Senator reversing his position earlier this month.
But gun manufacturers can already be sued if they are at fault. There is no blanket immunity, and claims to the contrary only make sensible gun reforms more difficult.
Parents of the Sandy Hook victims are currently suing gun manufacturer Remington Arms, for their production of a firearm used by shooter Adam Lanza. Their argument is that manufacturers like Remington should be held responsible when their firearms are used for illegal—and often tragic—purposes.
This debate carries important implications for what liability truly means.
At the center of the debate is the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which Senator Sanders supported and then-Senator Clinton opposed in 2005.
For Clinton, this is proof she has stood up to the “gun lobby,” while Sanders has given the NRA free-reign.
The truth is less black and white.
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