WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy introduced legislation Thursday that would allow victims of gun violence to sue the gun industry.
The legislation, which is being called the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, would repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) passed by Congress in 2005.
The PLCAA provides gun manufacturers and sellers with immunity from civil liability lawsuits. It’s what caused the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by 10 families of victims wounded or murdered in 2012 by the gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The families argued that Remington, the manufacturer of the AR-15 used by the gunman, was liable for the massacre of 26 first-graders and educators. But the case was dismissed in October 2016 when a judge ruled that Remington is protected by federal law against claims when people misuse firearms.
The case has been appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court. Oral arguments have yet to be scheduled.
“When 10 Sandy Hook families courageously took the manufacturer and distributor of the AR-15 used in that horrific tragedy to court, the deceptively named Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was used as a complete barrier to their pursuit of justice,” Blumenthal said. “That’s because under current law — and unlike virtually every other manufacturer of consumer products — the gun industry cannot be sued by consumers who are harmed by their products.”
Murphy took it a step further.
“Making the gun industry immune from lawsuits effectively handed them a license to kill,” Murphy said. “Toy manufacturers are held legally responsible if their neglect or irresponsibility hurts people, so why on earth aren’t gun manufacturers? I challenge my colleagues to put the safety of our constituents ahead of the gun lobby’s interests and support this bill.”
In court documents, the National Rifle Association defended Remington and said that “like all law-abiding Americans, NRA members have a fundamental enumerated right to keep and bear the firearms that plaintiffs’ legal theory would effectively remove from the market.”
The Sandy Hook families argue that Remington was liable and marketed the semi-automatic rifle to civilians like Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old gunman.
“Where others feared the catastrophic risk posed by these weapons, Remington saw a different problem: insufficient civilian demand for the AR-15,” Josh Koskoff, an attorney for the families, wrote in the Supreme Court brief. “Its solution was to develop a new market among ‘a younger demographic of users’ and to do so by employing a targeted marketing campaign linking the AR-15 to macho vigilantism and military style insurrection.”
Remington argues in its court brief that the gun was legally purchased in 2010 by Lanza’s mother, Nancy.
“The XM-15 rifle and other AR-type semiautomatic rifles with similar design features have been purchased and owned for decades by “[m]illions of Americans” for lawful civilian purposes,” attorneys for Remington wrote in court documents.
They argue the PLCAA exempts them from the “negligent entrustment” the plaintiffs claim.
“Despite their best efforts plaintiffs cannot shoehorn their claims into the PLCAA’s narrow statutory exception for certain negligent entrustment actions,” the NRA wrote in a separate brief.
Blumenthal and Murphy have continued to push to change federal firearm laws since the Sandy Hook massacre.
Following the Orlando night club shooting, Blumenthal and Murphy called Congress “complicit” in the shootings, saying lawmakers’ inaction on gun control was to blame for the continuing mass murders that have occurred since Sandy Hook across the country.
Months after the 2012 Newtown shooting, the U.S. Senate in 2013 failed to pass a measure expanding background checks on firearm purchases. The amendment fell four votes short of the 60-vote threshold needed to start debate on the bill.
In December 2015, Senate Republicans rejected an amendment to a bill (seeking to repeal Obamacare) that would have blocked suspected or known terrorists from buying guns.
Then in 2016, following a 15-hour filibuster, Murphy’s amendment to close the “gun show loophole” by requiring every gun purchaser to undergo a background check and to expand the background check database fell far short of the 60 votes needed — with 44 Senators supporting the amendment and 56 opposed. That vote was followed by a sit-in at the U.S. House of Representatives where members spoke about the need for more regulation of firearms.
It’s unlikely Congress will take up Blumenthal and Murphy’s legislation following the mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 people dead and hundreds more injured.
Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this was not the time to be talking about legislation targeting firearms.