Will The Gun Industry Ever Be Held Responsible For Gun Crime?

The short answer is no. You probably saw that coming, but you might not know the reasons why. In the 90s, there was a very successful string of lawsuits aimed at holding the tobacco industry responsible for the mounting health concerns associated with smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products. In the wake of extreme gun violence that began with Columbine and escalated from there, why not hold gun manufacturers, dealers, and distributors responsible as well?

The gun industry is extremely successful. Whether you’re for or against guns and gun protections, those people make a lot of money. Why shouldn’t they set some of it aside for survivors and families of those killed by gun violence? Doesn’t it make sense that if you sell something dangerous, you’re partly responsible for the consequences of the sale? 

In the late 90s, another string of lawsuits tried to hold gun dealers, distributors, and manufacturers accountable. They were unsuccessful. Nearly half had been dismissed before gun advocates successfully put the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) on President George W. Bush’s table, which he subsequently signed within eight months of its writing in 2005. 

The PLCAA resulted in the dismissal of the remaining lawsuits and has been a hindrance to similar lawsuits ever since. Very rarely has a law so uniformly and across the board provided similar protections to a single industry.

Jake Charles, Executive Director of Duke’s Center for Firearms Law, said, “I don’t think in the legal world the PLCAA is looked on as just regular legislation. It does seem designed to protect the gun industry in particular.”

It is extremely difficult to enact new laws restricting firearm sales in a culture where the subject is so controversial. But perhaps what could be done is the implementation of a new law wherein each gun sale is taxed. The money from those taxes could be funneled into a fund that survivors of gun violence of families of those killed by gun violence could pull from. All they would need to do is make a claim.

That might be a better use of resources than allowing thousands of people to file lawsuits that are ultimately designed to fail because of laws already on the books. And while it won’t turn off the faucet or unclog the sink — stop the wave of gun violence, that is — it will help dry up some of the water that’s already spilled onto the floor below. That’s at least a step in the right direction until we figure out what compromises we can make between the two sides of an increasingly volatile and partisan system.

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