Hillary Clinton, feeling the heat of Bernie Sanders’ surging campaign, has decided to go after him for his support for the limited legal immunity given to gun owners. This attack became particularly sharp after Sanders gave an interview in which he said the families of the Sandy Hook victims should not be able to sue the gun manufacturers for damages, a statement that prompted this hysterical reaction from the New York Daily News:
However, this is one issue where Bernie is absolutely right and Clinton is absolutely wrong.
The liability protections for gun companies were created in the mid-2000s. The reason it was created was because Democrats like Richard Daley and Andrew Cuomo were trying to use the Courts to bypass the legislatures. They were filing massive suits against gun manufacturers to hold them liable for the cost of people getting shot. Such lawsuits have no basis in common law or American legal tradition. You can sue people for making defective products or breaking the law (or lying about their products as the cigarette companies did). But you can’t sue someone who makes a perfectly legal product because you don’t like what people do with it. This would be like suing airplane manufacturers over 9/11. Or suing Apple because someone wrote something libelous on a Mac.
PLCAA codified the common-law principles that have long applied in tort claims following shootings: if an otherwise lawful firearm has performed as it was designed and intended to do, its maker and seller are not liable for its misuse. (Exceptions permit liability in some situations where, e.g., a defendant has broken regulations or knowingly sold to a buyer intent on harm.) In other words, Congress acted specifically to preserve the law’s traditional handling of gun liability as against activists’ efforts to develop novel legal doctrine.
A good way of visualizing it was posted by Harley on Facebook earlier this week:
While the lawsuits were bullshit and were mostly rejected by judges and juries, the hope was that either a) one jury would get stupid and open the door to multi-billion dollar suits; or b) the pressure of being sued by governments with effectively unlimited legal resources would force gun companies to make changes to their guns or sales procedures. In fact, this is exactly what happened in 2000, when Bill Clinton coerced Smith and Wesson into adopting more restrictive sales procedures. That’s what’s really going on here: having failed to get gun control through Congress, the gun grabbers want to use the threat of lawsuits to enact gun control through the back door.
And that’s why Congress was absolutely right to put a stop to it. Because allowing anyone to bypass Congress and legislate through the courts is an invitation to disaster. Once you’ve opened that door, there’s nothing to stop interest groups from using it to do whatever the hell they want. There’s nothing to stop President Cruz from effectively outlawing abortion by allowing thousands of wrongful death suits against abortion providers. There’s nothing to stop President Lieberman from enacting censorship on movies and video games by suing claiming it causes violence. When you’ve embraced the idea that companies can be sued for doing something legal because you don’t like it, the entire rule of law is upended. All that has to happen is for an industry to become unpopular and they can be crushed.
Hillary Clinton is not an idiot. She knows this. Any Democrat with two brain cells to rub together knows this. But the gun grabber hysteria on the Left is too strong right now for them to say, “Uh, no I favor gun control but we can’t upend the rule of law to do it.” This is effectively what Bernie Sander is saying. And for that, he’s being castigated by a gullible press and a desperate Presidential candidate.