Newspaper Editorials on S-397 Cover Both the Pros and Cons
Full Report | Roll Call Vote | Editorials
by Joseph P. Tartaro
After reading comments from pro- and anti-gun organizations, one suspects that they have a pipeline into the editorial boards of Americans newspapers. While a majority seem to be anti-gun and often appear to quote directly from the press releases of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Violence Policy Center and the Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, there are some that accept talking points from the National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation or Second Amendment Foundation.
Occasionally, there are some totally original ideas and some dispassionate views of the usually partisan debates on the gun issue. If you read more than one newspaper, you frequently wonder how the editorial writers can be talking about the same legislation.
With the passage of S-397, it seems a good idea to look at some of the editorial opinions expressed on the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Firearms Act of 2005.
The New York Times shared the following view with its readers on Oct. 18, two mornings before the House put its stamp on the amendment bill which passed the Senate this summer. (Actually, the House was first scheduled to vote on the measure on Oct. 19 but the leadership delayed the vote one day.)
The Times headline: Gun lobby rolls Congress.
Three years ago, those in and around Americas capital lived in fear of a pair of snipers who killed 10 and wounded three in random attacks with a Bushmaster XM-15 .223-caliber telescopic riflea gleaming, civilian version of the US Armys basic M-16 assault rifle popular with recreational shooters. In the aftermath, the rifle was traced to a shoddy gun dealer who claimed he somehow lost that war weapon and 200 other guns to the underground market. Victimized families sued in grief and outrage and won $2.5 million in a settlement that most Americansexcept Congresswould pronounce proper.
The House of Representatives, in callow disregard of cause and effect in Americas harrowing gun carnage, is about to take aim at the Bushmaster settlement by voting what is expected to be final approval of a bill to grant assault-proof protection from damage suits to the gun industry, from manufacturers to dealers. This extraordinary shield, written to the diktat of the National Rifle Association, is so sweeping that it would have barred the DC sniper settlement and other valid negligence claims, according to legal experts stunned that any industry could ever win such blanket immunity. The Houses eagerness is obscene as the gun lobby herds lawmakers from both parties behind a bill to deny victimized families their fair day in court.
President George W. Bush talked favorably about the assault weapons ban as a candidate but was notoriously mute when the Republican Congress let the ban expire last year. Surely he would not compound Americas gun scourge by signing the immunity bill.
The Buffalo News waited until the House voted in favor of the bill with the support not only of gun organizations but of national business, professional and labor groups. The Oct. 21 news editorial was headlined Gunmakers shield law a bad ideaLobbyists, GOP Congress ring up a bulls-eye, hurting gunowners, victims.
The News commentary follows:
Congress bulletproofed the gun industry Thursday (Oct. 20), as the House joined the Senate in passing legislation giving gunmakers and gun dealers immunity from civil damages lawsuits unless there was a criminal court conviction for a knowingly broken law.
The measure shields the industry not only from broad class-action lawsuits stemming from illegal use of guns but from local government lawsuits, about 20 of which now will be dismissed across the country. Once President Bush signs the bill into law, as he intends, it will hamper gunowners civil lawsuits over defective guns and weaken law enforcement actions against irresponsible dealers, importers and distributors.
Emotions played a part in this debate. Lawmakers, heavily influenced by the National Rifle Association, say images of folks victimized by lawlessness in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina fueled passage of this previously defeated bill. But there are emotions on the other side, as well.
Under this measure, families of the Washington, DC, area snipers victims would not have reached damages settlements with the Tacoma dealer who lost 283 weapons, including the one the snipers used, and with the makers of the snipers assault rifle. As The Damage Done, a Buffalo News four-part series on gun dealing, demonstrated this summer, the gun trade needs close watching. Now it wont get it.
Accountability and liability are key protections not only for gun victims but for gunowners. The Second Amendment was not intended as a shield for recklessness, any more than the First Amendment was intended to shield irresponsible libel or convey a right to yell fire! in a crowded theater. In immunizing an industry, this law puts Americans at greater riskand damages the cause of legitimate gun ownership.
For a look at the pro-S-397 side of newspaper commentary, Gun Week selected an editorial from The East Valley Tribune in Arizona, a seven-day-a-week newspaper serving the cities and communities of metropolitan Phoenix, comprising the East Valley, including: Scottsdale; Carefree; Cave Creek, and Fountain Hills in the northeast, and Mesa; Tempe; Chandler; Gilbert; Ahwatukee Foothills; Apache Junction; Higley; Queen Creek, and Sun Lakes in the southeast.
The Tribunes editorial was headlined Passage of gun suit bill thwarts attempt at gun control by litigation.
After a long string of political defeats that culminated in the Democratic Partys loss of control in Congress in 1994, gun-control activists decided to take a new tack.
They would litigate instead of legislate, and gain in the courts what they had been unable to achieve in the political arena: the effective repression of private firearms ownership in America.
The mayors of New Orleans and Chicago, leaders of their cities Democratic Party machines, kicked off the campaign in the fall of 1998 with lawsuits seeking to hold handgun manufacturers liable for the monumental costs of violent crimes committed in their bailiwicks. Late that same year, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley hosted a meeting of officials from 15 cities and the US Conference of Mayors to plan litigation strategy and boasted, This is just the beginning.
Indeed it was. Inspired by the recent success of the plaintiffs bar against the tobacco industry, the leaders of city after city filed lawsuits against the firearms makers. And what they sought was more than billion-dollar judgments, though visions of such surely danced in their heads. They sought what Brady Center attorney Dennis Hennigan called a doctrinal framework for the eventual liability of the gun industryone that, in the words of Temple University law professor David Kairys, would hold that gunmakers profit from crime and so they should pay the public costs of crime.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the jackpot: suit after suit was thrown out of court. In rejecting Cincinnatis lawsuit, the Ohio state court of appeals noted that to accept the gun control lawyers reasoning would open a Pandoras box and might well lead to suits against the manufacturers of matches for arson, or automobile manufacturers for traffic accidents or breweries for drunk driving.
But as both sides in this conflict acknowledge, it would only take one judicial activist or antigun jury to open that Pandoras boxand not only place firearms outside the reach of anyone save the fabulously wealthy but cripple an industry that, according to a June 27 letter from the Department of Defense to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) plays a critical role in meeting the procurement needs of our men and women in uniform.
That being the case, in July the US Senate passed by a 65-31 vote a bill titled The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, intended to thwart the litigious machinations of anti-gun activists. Its companion measure in the House passed Thursday (Oct. 19), 283-144, and now goes to the desk of President George W. Bush, who has said he will sign it.
Well that he should. The people responsible for crime are criminals, and there is no shortage of legal weaponry to go after them with. Absent criminal intent or gross negligence, guns are not inherently dangerous, and their makers should not be the target of repression litigious or otherwise.
Gun Week would conclude this review of commentary by noting that as this issue goes to press on Oct. 26, the President was expected to sign the measure into law.
That might not end the debate, however. The anti-gunners have said they will try to get a suit into court that will become a challenge to the constitutionality of S-397. That may take some time, but then the machinations of both litigation and legislation grind slowly. After all, its been almost exactly seven years since the mayor of New Orleans got this whole ball rolling. He took the bit in his mouth after the-Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell (now governor of Pennsylvania) decided not to test Prof. Kairys novel concept of strict liability.
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