Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act
|Other short titles||Child Safety Lock Act of 2005|
|Long title||An Act to prohibit civil liability actions from being brought or continued against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition for damages, injunctive or other relief resulting from the misuse of their products by others.|
|Nicknames||Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005|
|Enacted by||the 109th United States Congress|
|Effective||October 26, 2005|
|Statutes at Large||119 Stat. 2095|
|U.S.C. sections created||15 U.S.C. ch. 105 §§ 7901, 7902, 7903|
|U.S.C. sections amended||18 U.S.C. ch. 44 §§ 921, 922, 924|
The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) is a United States law which protects firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable when crimes have been committed with their products. However, both manufacturers and dealers can still be held liable for damages resulting from defective products, breach of contract, criminal misconduct, and other actions for which they are directly responsible in much the same manner that any U.S.-based manufacturer of consumer products is held responsible. They may also be held liable for negligent entrustment when they have reason to know a gun is intended for use in a crime.
The PLCAA is codified at 15 U.S.C. §§ 7901-7903.
In the years before passage of the act, victims of firearms violence in the United States had successfully sued manufacturers and dealers for negligence on the grounds that they should have foreseen that their products would be diverted to criminal use.
In 1998, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley sued gun makers and dealers, saying: "You can't expect the status quo on businesses which make money and then have no responsibility to us as citizens." The city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, also sued several gun companies. Mayor Joseph Ganim said that the city's action aimed at "creating law with litigation.... That's the route that we're going because [the industry has] always very effectively, with big money, lobbied the legislature and kept laws from being passed."
In 2000, Smith & Wesson, facing several state and federal lawsuits, signed an agreement brokered by President Bill Clinton, in which the company voluntarily agreed to implementing various measures in order to settle the suits. The agreement required Smith & Wesson to sell guns only through dealers that complied with the restrictions on all guns sold regardless of manufacturer, thus potentially having a much wider potential impact than just Smith & Wesson.
HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo was quoted as saying that gun manufacturers that did not comply would suffer "death by a thousand cuts", and Eliott Spitzer said that those who didn't cooperate would have bankruptcy lawyers "knocking at your door".
It was signed into law on October 26, 2005, by President George W. Bush and became Public Law 109-92. Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association thanked President Bush for signing the Act, for which it had lobbied, describing it as "... the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in twenty years into law".
Since the law's passage, there have been two cases taken to a jury trial for damages. In the first, a jury found in favor of a gun store in Alaska after a gun purchased by Jason Coday was used in a murder. The second resulted in a six million dollar verdict against Badger Guns after guns negligently sold there were used to shoot police officers.
In 2016, a Missouri gun store settled for $2.2 million, for selling a gun to a schizophrenic woman who later killed her father, after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the sale was "negligent entrustment" and therefore was not protected by the PLCAA. The store had previously been warned by the woman's parents that she was mentally unstable, and asked that she not be sold a gun.
The Brady Center and families of victims of the 2012 Aurora shooting sued Lucky Gunner, the online store where some of the ammunition was purchased. Federal judge Richard Paul Matsch dismissed the charges. He ordered the plaintiffs to pay Lucky Gunner's legal fees under a separate Colorado law, HB 000-208.
In October 2016, a Connecticut Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the families of some victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting against the manufacturer, the wholesale distributor, and the retailer of the semi-automatic rifle used in the shooting. Judge Barbara Bellis ruled that the suit "falls squarely within the broad immunity" provided to gun manufacturers and dealers by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The Connecticut Supreme Court is considering the case.
After the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, and Sandy Hook, Connecticut, shooting incidents, a renewed effort has been mounted to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act to make it possible for victims of gun violence to sue firearms manufacturers and dealers on a broader array of grounds.
Hillary Clinton stated that she would repeal the law if elected, saying: "They are the only business in America that is wholly protected from any kind of liability. They can sell a gun to someone they know they shouldn't, and they won't be sued. There will be no consequences." Shortly after Clinton made this claim, fact checker Politifact rated the statement false, noting that other businesses and entities in America have similar or greater levels of protection against liability, and that firearms dealers and manufacturers are still susceptible to lawsuits and liability.
Bernie Sanders, who as a congressman voted for the law in 2005, defended the law in October 2015, saying: "If somebody has a gun and it falls into the hands of a murderer and the murderer kills somebody with a gun, do you hold the gun manufacturer responsible? Not any more than you would hold a hammer company responsible if somebody beats somebody over the head with a hammer." He changed his position somewhat in January 2016, saying that he would favor a partial repeal of the law.
While gun violence continues as a major sociopolitical issue in the United States, the firearms industry has negated civil action lawsuits from gun violence victims due to protection from liability that federal law grants the business. According to the Center for American Progress, the PLCAA prevents "victims of gun violence from pursuing well-established legal claims against irresponsible gun manufacturers and sellers—without presenting an alternative means for the victims to be compensated." Exceptions within the law that allow lawsuits to go forward fall under "negligent entrustment" and "predicate exception" actions, which target negligent retailers or manufacturers who violated local statutes applicable to the sale of firearms, but these cases are difficult to prove and rarely clear the PLCAA threshold in court. Experts argue that the PLCAA also hinders safety enhancement and self-regulation that can be achieved through civil liability claims against the industry. The immunity from accountability that the law grants the firearms industry can contribute to illegal gun sales, negligent marketing, and failure to apply safer design choices.
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