Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has distinguished herself from opponent Bernie Sanders moderate stance on gun industry liability. In the recent CNN debate, she pointed out that he voted in favor of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in 2005, a law that grants immunity to the gun industry for illegal acts committed with a weapon after purchase, while she voted against it. While Clinton’s claims may have been over simplified and exaggerated, many liberals are questioning Bernie Sanders’ support. In the wake of the Milwaukee decision where a jury relied on an exception to the PLCAA finding Badger Guns negligent for knowingly selling a weapon in a straw purchase, the Vox took a closer look at this controversial law in its article, “Bernie Sanders Vote to Protect Gun Companies, Explained.”
The Vox article pointed out that even before the passage of the PLCAA, most suits against gun sellers based on injuries caused by third party criminal shootings were dismissed prior to trial. In the few cases that made it to a jury, defendants most often prevailed. All but one of the handful of jury verdicts in favor of plaintiffs were overturned on appeal. In the article Prof. Timothy Lytton explained that the gun industry sought legislative immunity to avoid having to defend against suits. Immunity has essentially blocked plaintiffs from conducting discovery to learn more about gun industry distribution practices and to refine theories of liability. Ten years later, a few cases have proceeded against the gun industry to test the extent of the PLCAA or its exceptions.
Timothy D. Lytton is a Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law with expertise in the public policy implications of tort litigation. He is the editor of Suing the Gun Industry: A Battle at the Crossroads of Gun Control and Mass Torts (2005).