The Star Tribune predictably shrieks with hysteria today about the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Firearms Act, which the Senate is about to pass after the House has already done so. For those not in the know, the PLCFA protects gun manufacturers from the same sort of tort extortion that the tobacco industry has endured over the past several years. Trial lawyers love these class-action lawsuits because they have the potential of nine-figure legal fees; Micheal Ceresi’s firm received over $400 million from the eventual multi-billion settlement for Minnesota in the tobacco lawsuits. However, unlike true liability cases where a defective product was knowingly sold to consumers, causing injury, these lawsuits are intended on extorting huge sums of money from gun manufacturers for producing their legal products at all. The lawyers intend on banning guns by bankrupting their manufacturers — while stuffing their own pockets — and they’re not even subtle about their goals.
In any rational world, this strategy would be called an abuse of the tort system and legislation precluding it would receive support from everyone who is concerned about an overreach of government and the safety of our Constitutional freedoms. Not the Star Tribune, however:
The ill-conceived measure, which is headed for passage by the U.S. Senate this week and has already been approved by the House, would bar most civil lawsuits against gun makers, importers and dealers. … We’re not fans of frivolous litigation either, but blanket immunity is not the solution. This would set a dangerous precedent and could lay the groundwork for turning long-accepted liability laws upside down. Carving out wholesale exemptions from civil lawsuits has never been done for alcohol, tobacco or any other dangerous product.
Perhaps the reason “wholesale exemptions” haven’t been carved out before is that there was no reason to do so. Until everyone started suing tobacco companies for selling a product that everyone knew was dangerous and addictive — and forty-plus years after the government forced them to label it as such — no one considered the fact that companies could be sued just for producing a product. Further, the possession of alcohol and tobacco isn’t Constitutionally guaranteed; the Second Amendment would be meaningless if the government was allowed to sue firearms manufacturers into oblivion. Finally, when would this stop? As we’ve seen, it didn’t stop at tobacco or guns, but lawyers have attempted to file class-action lawsuits against fast-food restaurants for serving high-fat, high-calorie foods — as if we’re all forced to eat it.
The Strib doesn’t even have the courage of its own convictions. In the very next paragraph, the article suggests a trade-off for the novel idea of allowing gun manufacturers to continue producing a legal product:
If the Senate follows the House down the immunity path, at the least it should pass two provisions that would help mitigate the damage. Early this week, the Senate will consider and should pass an amendment that would close a gaping loophole in current regulations. Under federal law, you can’t purchase a gun from a licensed dealer at a gun show without a background check. But if the seller is an unlicensed private seller, no check is required. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, gun shows are the second leading source of firearms recovered in illegal gun trafficking investigations.
The Senate also should approve an amendment that would extend the federal ban on semiautomatic assault weapons, which is scheduled to expire next year. There is simply no legitimate need for those types of rapid-fire weapons.
Note that these two issues are completely unrelated to gun manufacturing. The first has to do with a secondary market in which the manufacturers have no control, or does the Star Tribune really think that Smith & Wesson prefers people to buy used weapons instead of new? The amendment would create a requirement for all private sales to have a background check for completion. In other words, if I wanted to sell a gun to my neighbor, I would have to run a background check before being allowed to do so. If the amendment restricts such requirements to gun shows, it opens up such a large loophole that the amendment itself becomes useless, which is that private sales will simply occur outside of gun shows.
The Strib’s true aim — a ban on all gun ownership — comes through loud and clear. The transparent attempt to preserve a civil-liability option for lawyers to exploit, followed by these ludicrous fallback positions, betray their intentions. It’s a measure of the Strib editorial staff that they don’t have the intellectual honesty to simply say so.