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Prof. Lytton Comments on Senator Bernie Sanders and the PLCAA

lytton finalGuns and manufacturer liability is a recurrent topic during the presidential debates between Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which provides immunity to firearm manufacturers and retailers from liability for violence connected with a firearm that they sold or manufactured, is the core of the discussion.

Professor Timothy Lytton provided insight on the PLCAA and on Sanders’ rationale for supporting the law. In the L.A. Times March 7 article “Column Sanders Got the Gun Makers’ Liability Issue Dead Wrong (And Got an Attaboy From the NRA),” Lytton commented on Sanders’ contention that expanding liability for gun makers and retailers would destroy the American gun industry. Lytton argued that the risk of greater liability would give manufacturers greater incentive to monitor the behavior of their retailers. In pointing out that the law provided exceptions to immunity, Lytton argued that Sanders “…did accept that there should be certain amount of liability exposure in the gun industry. He just wanted to roll it back to the early 1980s.”

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).


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Professor Lytton quoted in Politifact about truth of Clinton’s statement on gun industry immunity

lytton finalHillary Clinton has been criticizing rival Bernie Sanders for his stance on gun control. He voted for the Protection of Lawful Conduct in Arms Act in 2005 while she voted against it. The Act shields the gun industry from liability for a gun purchaser’s criminal misuse of a weapon.

“Probably one of the most egregious, wrong, pieces of legislation that ever passed the Congress when it comes to this issue is to protect gun sellers and gun makers from liability,” she said in Iowa Oct. 7. “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.”

Politifact, a fact-checking site that rates the accuracy of political statements, examined her statement above, looking at 1) whether gun makers are “wholly protected” from tort liability, and 2) whether they are the only industry with this protection in their article, “Clinton: Gun industry is ‘wholly protected’ from all lawsuits,” and rated it “False.”

The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act prohibits certain types of tort claims, but it does have exceptions, including for instances where the gun manufacturer or seller knew or should have known that the sale was unlawful, such as in the recent Badger Guns ruling. Further,the act “is not the first federal law to grant a particular industry immunity from tort liability,” said Lytton. One example of another industry that has been granted broad tort immunity is vaccines. A key difference,though is that plaintiffs may pursue certain claims for injury purportedly caused by vaccines through the alternative mechanism Congress established, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. There is no alternative route to pursue claims for which immunity is provided under the PLCAA.

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).