I'm a member of the NRA. My principle reason for joining them is my belief that the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution is under some pretty hefty attack these days and I want to see it protected. Recently they have also managed to get involved in the fight for the 1st Amendment and that is something else I'm glad to be a member for. (More on that in a later post.) The most recent actions in Congress dealing with 2nd Amendment issues were on the Senate floor where S.1805, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, came to a vote. The Act sought to clarify once and for all that a manufacturer of firearms was not liable for unlawful acts committed by a third party using their product. In layman's terms, Smith & Wesson couldn't be sued because some mugger shot a guy with a gun they had made but did not sell to him.
Sounds pretty reasonable. After all, you don't see Ford and Toyota being sued when a drunk driver kills a family crossing the street and you don't have lawsuits filed against Wustof when a woman stabs her boyfriend 87 times. Lawsuits like these against the firearms industry are frivolous. They are not intended, really, to protect against the events they decry. They are merely a way around being unable to get laws passed to ban firearms in increasing measures. And lest you think that's alarmist, rest assured that there are plenty of people who think no one but a soldier or a policeman should own a gun. I give you former President Bill Clinton upon signing the Brady Bill in 1993:
|Space Here||There is no reason for anyone in this country- anyone except a police officer or military person- to buy, to own, to have, to use a handgun. The only way to control handgun use in this country is to prohibit the guns.||Space Here|
You can find lots more quotes out there and I leave it to you to do so, if you're so inclined. The point is, the folks who want to get that accomplished aren't faring so well in the legislative arena, so they're using the courts as a cudgel to simply beat the makers of firearms into bankruptcy. I disapprove on a general point in that I don't think the courts should be allowed to be used as a weapon and on a specific point that I think the firearms industry should be protected in particular. The NRA also approves and you could tell in how they were pressing members such as myself to contact our elected reps and urge them to support the bill.
Imagine my surprise when the NRA withdrew their support and urged those same elected reps to vote S.1805 down.
The media didn't trumpet the fact too hard but the reason the NRA withdrew support was reported to be that 2 amendments were added to S.1805 that 1) extended the so-called "Clinton Assault Weapons Ban", and 2) alleged to close a "loophole" in criminal background checks for guns purchased at gun shows. These amendments were added on March 2, 2004 on the day the Senate was to vote on S.1805. Their addition was widely seen as a "poison pill" move done solely to kill the primary bill. It worked wonders.
When I read the NRA had withdrawn support from the bill, I was - to put it mildly - angered. In my view, the NRA had just sacrificed a bill to protect the firearms industry from being sued to death in order to permit someone to buy an "assault weapon" at a gunshow and not have to have the FBI brought in on it. Can we say "priorities"? I considered the NRA's priority screwed up. In fact, as I started to write this entry in the blog, it was my intent to state that thought in big, bold letters and cast my demand for an explanation onto the cyber-winds. In gathering citable sources, however, I got an education in research and a new view into media bias and the congressional method.
First, let's begin with the actual bill as it was intended. The actual text of the bill is up on the Thomas locator at congress.gov and can be read in its entirety there. I'll be quoting parts of it, but you can read the whole thing over there. The bill's intent was to "To prohibit civil liability actions from being brought or continued against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition for damages resulting from the misuse of their products by others." Succinct, to the point, very targetted. Specifically, the bill directs 2 things:
|Space Here||SEC. 3. PROHIBITION ON BRINGING OF QUALIFIED CIVIL LIABILITY ACTIONS IN FEDERAL OR STATE COURT.|
(a) IN GENERAL- A qualified civil liability action may not be brought in any Federal or State court.
(b) DISMISSAL OF PENDING ACTIONS- A qualified civil liability action that is pending on the date of enactment of this Act shall be immediately dismissed by the court in which the action was brought.
In other words, you can't bring a "qualified civil liability action" against a firearms manufacturer, dealer, or importer in State or Federal court. And if you already have such an action pending, it's hereby dismissed. The obvious follow-up question here is "what's a 'qualified' civil liability action?" Glad you asked:
|Space Here|| (5) QUALIFIED CIVIL LIABILITY ACTION-|
(A) IN GENERAL- The term `qualified civil liability action' means a civil action brought by any person against a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product, or a trade association, for damages resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a qualified product by the person or a third party, but shall not include--
(i) an action brought against a transferor convicted under section 924(h) of title 18, United States Code, or a comparable or identical State felony law, by a party directly harmed by the conduct of which the transferee is so convicted;
(ii) an action brought against a seller for negligent entrustment or negligence per se;
(iii) an action in which a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product, and the violation was a proximate cause of the harm for which relief is sought, including--
(I) any case in which the manufacturer or seller knowingly made any false entry in, or failed to make appropriate entry in, any record required to be kept under Federal or State law;
(II) any case in which the manufacturer or seller aided, abetted, or conspired with any person in making any false or fictitious oral or written statement with respect to any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale or other disposition of a qualified product; or
(III) any case in which the manufacturer or seller aided, abetted, or conspired with any other person to sell or otherwise dispose of a qualified product, knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that the actual buyer of the qualified product was prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm or ammunition under subsection (g) or (n) of section 922 of title 18, United States Code;
(iv) an action for breach of contract or warranty in connection with the purchase of the product; or
(v) an action for physical injuries or property damage resulting directly from a defect in design or manufacture of the product, when used as intended or in a manner that is reasonably foreseeable.
So, basically, you can still bring action against these folks if they sold to someone they knew or should have known was prohibited from owning a gun, if the seller went out of his way to avoid filing the right kinds of regulatory paperwork, if the seller is in breach of contract or warranty, or if you were injured as a result of a design or manufacture defect. If, on the other hand, you're suing them because some evil jerk mowed down 10 people in a coffee shop with a heavily modified hangun, that's not going to fly.
So now we know what the bill was intended to be. What did it become? This post is getting long enough, so I'll continue that in the next one. Stay tuned...