What would the gun liability bill actually do?

The issue of limits on lawsuits against gun manufacturers and sellers is once again in the news. Most of the news stories include a fair amount of “one side says, but the other side says” journalism; from that CNN.com article:

And from this article on Infozine.com:


This Washington Post editorial claims that the bill would have blocked a successful lawsuit against Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply for negligently selling a rifle to the Beltway snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo. This Philadelphia Inquirer editorial also says that the bill would “shield gun-makers and dealers from negligence lawsuits”. (Some of those links will probably require free registration.)

It seems as if one side or the other isn’t being truthful here, and the “one side says, but the other says says” style of journalism isn’t very helpful in sorting things out.

I believe this is the text of the bill currently under consideration. IANAL (lawyer or legislator), but if I’m following the wording of this bill correctly, lawsuits arising from violations of the law by gun dealers or negligence on the part of gun dealers in providing weapons to people who shouldn’t have them would specifically still be allowed (as would lawsuits against a gun manufacturer whose products blow up when you pull the trigger or something like that). However, I may be missing some arcane legal point about the meaning of “negligent entrustment” or the definitions contained in subparagraphs (A) or (B) of section 921(a)(3) of title 18, United States Code.

I’m actually interested in as factual an answer as possible, but I figure I’ll save myself the effort of inevitably moving this over from GQ. However, before this turns into a general debate on the right to bear arms, the meaning of the Second Amendment, the merits of gun control, or the wisdom of keeping guns for self-defense (or on federalism or tort reform, for that matter), I would like to hear some informed responses as to what this bill would actually do. If some of our resident lawyers could weigh in, I’d especially appreciate it.

I’m not a lawyer, but I did work on Capitol Hill and tangentially with this legislation in its previous incarnation.

You may want to check out the Senate Republican Policy Committee’s analysis of the bill (http://rpc.senate.gov/_files/L16GunLiabilityJuly2605SD.pdf). Sure, it’s a Republican organization that supports the bill, but their analysis is very lawyerly and quite trustworthy.

Essentially, those who say this bill would prevent lawsuits against those who sell guns to those who shouldn’t have them or that it will prevent lawsuits against gun manufacturers who sell defective products are simply mistaken. This bill would prevent lawsuits against gun manufacturers when a third party criminally uses one of the guns they manufactured. So if a criminal steals a Baretta and shoots a cop, the cop’s family couldn’t sue Baretta. However, if someone purchases a Baretta that blows up in his/her hand, then Baretta could be sued. Likewise, if a gun dealer sold a gun to someone who was not a prohibited person and then that person used the gun in a crime, the gun dealer could not be sued. However, if the gun dealer sold a gun to a prohibited person and that person commited a crime, then the dealer could be sued.

From the RPC report:

Sorry for the formatting on the quote. I was copying from a .pdf file.
I don’t think you should consider this a case of “he said, she said.” Senator Craig wrote the bill. He knows what’s in it. The Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer do not have as much knowledge of the bill as he does. Brady Campaign President Mike Barnes should have better knowledge of the bill than it seems from the article you quoted. If he does, then he’s a liar. If not, he should refrain from commenting on the bill.

Senator Craig knows what’s in the bill. His assertions that the bill will do nothing to prevent suits in the case of negligence are truthful. The assertions to the contrary are either based on lack of information or they are lies.

I see it as part of the often denied Slippery Slope, along with the idiotic “bullet serial number” nonsense in California. It is an attempt to stop all guns at all costs, by any means necessary. If there is a crime, the criminal should be punihsed, and that’s as far as it should go. What would be next? Sue thhe makers of kitchen knives for stabbings or hammers for bludgeonings? Sue Chevy for vehicular homicide? It is just another attempt by the anti-gun lobby to further interfere where they are not welcome.

If it were a case of suing a gun maker because a shoddy or defective gun killed a law abiding citizen by not working like it should (exploding barrel, inoperative safety etc) then sue the hell out of them. But not the way this law would work. It will be used to sue gun makers because someone “downstream” was a criminal. Colt, Ruger, Smith make guns. They sell them to gun dealers, who sell them to the general public. The buyer is screened through a quick background check. After that, if the buyer does something wrong, it’s the buyer’s fault. If he sells it to someone he knows is a criminal, it’s his fault. This shifting of the blame is anti-gunner tactics, to try and force gun makers to go out of business.