Thursday, July 28, 2005
NYT Editorial--Still Anti-Gun
No Immunity for the Gun Industry
At a time when Congress is grappling with critical measures, including military and energy issues, the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, has seen fit to catapult a special interest bill for the gun lobby to the head of the legislative queue.
For those of us who think the Second Amendment is an important right, and not just some sort of weird mistake by the framers, this was the best thing Senator Frist (R-TN) has done in a long time. A neutral journalist would have noted here that this is a second try to pass the bill rather than characterize it as an inappropriate waste of time when other pressing things need Senate attention. Notice too the code words "special interest" and "gun lobby." Nothing good can be the result of these two things.
The bill would grant gun manufacturers, distributors and sellers an unreasonable degree of immunity from civil suits by families or communities harmed by gun violence. It would even require that lawsuits already filed be dismissed.
"Unreasonable degree of immunity"? The manufacturers and distributors of firearms have been sued in the past half decade by a number of cities and even a liberal organization or two. They have yet to lose and indeed, most of the suits have been tossed out before trial. The cost, however, has been enormous (we lawyers don't come cheap), some estimates have it at $2 billion. It is difficult to remain in business with that sort of pyrrhic victory repeated again and again. Indeed, bankrupting the manufacturers and distributors through many failed, bogus lawsuits was held out as a legitimate tactic by some. It's not unreasonable to protect an industry from this sort of sleazy action.
Although the firearms industry argues that it should not be held liable for the criminal acts of those who buy or steal guns, all too often the dealers, distributors or manufacturers contribute to the problem by failing to safeguard their inventories or police their own sales responsibly. The victims of their negligence deserve the right to sue.
This is disingenuous at best. The law immunizes only those manufacturers and distributors who obey the myriad laws regarding the sale of firearms. Negligence is not excused. "All too often"? How often do distributors fail to police their sales responsibly? But again if the gun shop owner doesn't follow the law and clear that the purchaser has valid 2nd Amendment rights, he or she would be liable. The NYT is complaining about a problem that doesn't exist in the proposed legislation.
Most Americans would surely applaud the legal settlement made in the Washington-area sniper case. The dealer that "lost" the sniper's assault rifle, and some 200 other guns as well, and the rifle's manufacturer paid $2.5 million to two surviving victims and the families of six victims who died. Yet the pending bill, according to legal experts, is so restrictive that if it had been in effect, this lawsuit would have been barred.
I, for one, did not applaud the settlement and thought it was more akin to extortion vis a vis the manufacturer (Bushmaster) than laudable justice. The rifle's maker did nothing wrong. The gun store probably did violate the law (and therefore could have been sued under this law). But the main bad guys were John Muhammad and Lee Malvo. the Washington snipers. They used the gun to shoot people at random, but they're not sued. In the civil arena they are guiltless and the manufacturer is guilty. Even the morally blind can see that's not fair and this injustice is the very reason for this necessary law.
A similar bill cleared the House last year, but it was withdrawn in the Senate when the National Rifle Association objected to the attachment of gun-control amendments.
The bill, which would have passed, was fatally poisoned with amendments by liberal, gun hating legislators.
Republicans have since gained four Senate seats, and Democrats have grown more fearful of opposing the gun lobby. When this misguided immunity bill comes up for a vote, responsible senators must find a way to head it off or to summon the courage to vote no.
In what way is it"courage" to act irresponsibly and allow a manifest unfairness to continue to exist? If there are no gun manufacturers left in business, what do our troops use in battle? Longbows? In the slightly modified words of Clint Eastwood--Go ahead, Democrat Senators in conservative states, vote against this bill, make my day.
UPDATE: The bill squeeked through 65-31. None of the Democrat Senators in conservative states voted against it. Harry Reid voted for it. Senator Clinton voted against it. Can the leopard change its spots?