Starting in the 1980s, victims of gun violence filed lawsuits against gun retailers. By the late 1990s, this litigation expanded to include lawsuits against gun manufacturers, many brought by municipalities, under a variety of theories. In response, 33 states passed legislation granting the gun industry immunity from lawsuits arising out of criminal misuse of a weapon, except in very narrow circumstances. In 2005, Congress passed gun industry immunity legislation: the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). The PLCAA is now the center of debate between Democratic presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Sanders, who originally voted for the bill in 2005, now advocates for stricter gun laws. The inconsistency in Sanders’ record has recently been questioned and argued.
Mother Jones recently quoted Professor Lytton in its January 25 article “How Bernie Sanders Helped Derail a Promising Legal Fight Against Gun Violence”. Lytton, in explaining the legal theory behind the lawsuits, stated that “gun violence up until the 1980s was thought of as a problem of bad apples – criminals who were shooting people – and that it was a crime problem. The tort lawsuits basically reframed this and said, ‘No, the real problem here isn’t criminals. The real problem is industry practices, and…the real focus needs to be placed on the carelessness of industry distribution practices and the responsibility of the industry to police its own supply chain.”
Timothy D. Lytton is a Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law and a member of the Center for Law, Health & Society. His expertise is in the public policy implications of tort litigation. Lytton is the editor of Suing the Gun Industry: A Battle at the Crossroads of Gun Control and Mass Torts (2005).