I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of the late great Warren Zevon when news broke of the unfortunately-timed civil lawsuit just filed by one of the victims of the Aurora shooting. The primary case “center[s] on the safety and security procedures at the theater” but some experts say, according to Bloomberg, that such claims may not be successful “because such cases require some proof that a company or organization acted unreasonably, and knew, or should have known, about the danger posed.” Of course, Aurora CO wasn’t completely unaware that insane individuals were capable of mass murder. In the 1990s, a guy walked into an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese and killed four people. And of course, there was Columbine, only 17 miles way. But this was a movie-theater first, and a judge may very well throw it out.
But we’re a lot more concerned about the various “get out of jail free” cards for which the National Rifle Association has lobbied so hard around the country, all for the purpose of ensuring that the gun industry – as well as “shooters gone rogue” - are never held responsible for any of the consequences of this nation’s gun violence. For example, in 2005, President George W. Bush signed into law the NRA’s Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields the gun industry from liability when the acts of a gun dealer or manufacturer contribute to gun violence.
Earlier this year, we covered the civil liability protections buried in Florida’s "Stand Your Ground" law. At the NRA’s behest, these laws had been pushed around the country by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is holding its annual convention in Utah as we speak. Goodness knows what those BFF’s, the NRA and ALEC, will come up with next.
But no wonder they’re concerned. Given that the gun industry is virtually unregulated in the country, the threat of legal liability is probably the best way to change the way gun manufacturers and distributors make their products available to the public. This was all explored in a 2003 newsletter from the Center for Justice & Democracy. At the time this was written, the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act” had just passed the House, so there was still hope of stopping it. But alas, things got decidely worse. Here what CJ&D observed back then.
After cities began filing lawsuits against gun manufacturers in 1998, Colt Manufacturing Co. announced that it would stop selling most handguns to the civilian market due to liability concerns. Facing the threat of future multi-million- dollar awards and the prospect of having its insurance canceled, Remington recalled 200,000 air rifles and air pistols within days of settling a case brought by a man who became paralyzed after a Remington air rifle suddenly discharged during a hunting trip even though the safety release was pushed into the “OFF” position.…
As Professor Stephen P. Teret, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in the Washington Post, “When needed regulation of products is thwarted by politics, health advocates turn to the courts for help. …Some argue that legislation is the only proper, legal route for protecting the public’s health. But litigation is designed to remedy injustices, and there should be no question about the injustice of a product that needlessly injures and kills tens of thousands.”
That would be guns.