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Make gun makers responsible for the mayhem of their products

Ortbals Headshot 1 1 16By ALAN J. ORTBALS
Another month. Another mass shooting. In November, 26 people were murdered while attending church in Texas. In October, 59 people were gunned down while attending a concert in Las Vegas. I frankly don’t remember the one before that.
    That’s America today. People being mowed down like corn stalks in fall farm fields.
    Every time it happens, politicians send their thoughts and prayers and tell us it’s too soon to talk about gun violence; liberals call for various types of gun control measures from expanded background checks to bans on assault rifles; and the pro-gun folks tell us that gun controls won’t work and the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Then, we wait for the next one to occur. Lather, rinse, repeat.
    In recent years mass shootings have increased — another one took place in California as I’m writing this — and the number of people killed or wounded has increased as well. In addition to the 59 people murdered at the Las Vegas concert, there were 547 that went to hospitals with gunshot wounds.
    That’s because assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns with high-capacity magazines are the mass murderer’s weapons of choice. Gun rights activists are right about one thing, however, most of them are obtained legally.
    There used to be some will on the part of lawmakers to try to rein in gun violence. For example, Congress passed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994. It outlawed the manufacture for civilian use of some semi-automatic firearms and large capacity magazines but it was a temporary provision that sunsetted in 2004.
    It was effective, too. According to a 2004 study by The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence gun crimes with assault weapons fell nearly 70 percent during the ban. Data compiled by the Harvard School of Public health on mass shootings shows that they’ve occurred with much greater frequency since the ban was lifted and the victim count has risen sharply.
    Despite the success of the Assault Weapons Ban and despite the fact that large percentages of the American people favor gun control legislation, Congress fails to act. Efforts to pass even the mildest gun control laws are non-starters as we saw recently in deep blue Illinois when a bill to ban the sale of bump-stocks like the one used so devastatingly in Las Vegas was soundly defeated.
    Maybe we’re approaching this from the wrong angle. Rather than argue about gun control legislation and whether or not it would be effective, etc., here’s a better idea: Let’s repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). Believe it or not, Congress passed this legislation in 2005 making it illegal to sue firearms manufacturers and dealers when crimes are committed using their products. When President George W. Bush signed it into law, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre called it, “the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in 20 years.”
    In the late 1990s several cities including Chicago, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Conn., filed suit claiming negligence on behalf of gun manufacturers and dealers in the manufacture and sale of firearms.
    “By taking this action, we are saying to the handgun industry, ‘From now on, you are responsible for the costs associated with your dangerous products,’” said Mayor Joseph Gamin of Bridgeport.
    Congress stepped in, passed the PLCAA and gave the gun industry cover from such lawsuits.
    Some of the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre filed suit in 2012 against Remington Arms, manufacturer of the gun Adam Lanza used to mow down 20 children and six adults. A Connecticut state Superior Court judge dismissed the suit last year citing Remington’s PLCAA immunity. The families have appealed to the state Supreme Court. Lots of luck.
    The PLCAA essentially gives manufacturers the right to make whatever kinds of guns and accessories they want; sell them with very little oversight; and walk away from whatever happens with them once they’re on the street effectively saying, “Not my problem,” while the rest of us live with the consequences.
    How about we make it their problem? Repeal the PLCAA and let cities and victims and family members sue them for their careless and negligent behavior. Nail them for hundreds of millions of dollars for the death and destruction that are perpetrated with their products. Then, we won’t have to pass laws to try to control the gun manufacturers. They’ll control themselves.
    Alan J. Ortbals is president and publisher of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at or (618) 659-1977.

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