Republicans and the NRA once supported universal background checks. Now they don't. What gives? Here's an idea - they don't have any reason to care.
In 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association called, "a historic piece of legislation." The law, which is still good law - in the sense that it's still on the books, - is the legal equivalent of a bulletproof vest for gun manufacturers, shielding them from all liability in the majority of civil lawsuits arising out of the unlawful use of their products. So, while you might lose sleep over the thought of high capacity magazines and assault rifles being out on the market, it's probably safe to assume that the manufacturers of those products aren't too worried. To understand, let's take a brief look at how product liability works.
Generally speaking, product manufacturers are immune from lawsuits arising out of situations in which their products are used for a criminal purpose. And this makes sense - most of the time. For instance, if you're hit in the head with a baseball bat, your first thought, most likely, isn't, "I'm going to sue Louisville." Indeed, theoretically any product can be used for a criminal purpose, but for the most part, crime is thought to be the exception rather than the rule. As such, courts generally find that it is not "foreseeable" for a manufacturer that its product will be used for a criminal purpose. Thus, a manufacturer will not generally be held liable for manufacturing that product if and when it is used for a criminal purpose. As a result, if you did decide to sue Louisville, you'll probably be up a creek without a paddle.
Historically, gun manufacturers were treated the same way. Of course, "gun technology" wasn't as advanced as it is today, nor were guns manufactured and marketed to be so highly accessible to criminals. And, as time went on, it became an undeniable reality that a certain percentage of guns would be used by criminals. Thus, it became "foreseeable" for gun manufacturers that their products would be used for a criminal purpose. And courts started to allow victims of criminal gun violence and their municipalities to sue gun manufacturers when their products were used for a criminal purpose.
What's a gun manufacturer to do? Maybe gun manufacturers could stop making guns that are commonly used in crimes. For instance, it's widely known that handguns are more frequently used in crimes than are rifles or shotguns. Moreover, studies show that there are specific types of handguns that are more frequently used in crimes than other handguns. So, to avoid liability, gun manufacturers could simply stop making the guns that are most frequently used by criminals. Or, gun manufacturers could restrict the marketing of these guns to only law enforcement agencies. Of course, one or two of their guns might slip into the hands of the wrong people, but if Acme Gun Company only sold its guns to the police, it wouldn't be "foreseeable" to Acme that their guns would be used for a criminal purpose. In turn, courts would stop holding Acme liable on the rare occasion that its gun is used in a crime - just like a baseball bat. Or, maybe gun manufacturers could support universal background checks - paid for by the government - to make sure that guns stay out of the hands of criminals.
But none of these suggestions really sat well with gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association. Why? Because going out of business or restricting the marketing and distribution of guns is not profitable. So, the NRA came up with a better solution: lobby Republicans in Congress to change the law. And they did. And they won. Indeed, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act essentially says, "Evidence be damned, it's not foreseeable to gun manufacturers that their products will be used in crimes." As a result, courts are required by law to dismiss the vast majority of lawsuits against gun manufacturers arising out of unlawful gun violence. So with nothing to lose when criminals use their guns, it's no surprise that gun manufacturers and the NRA no longer want universal background checks. Want gun manufacturers and the NRA to support universal background checks again? Perhaps it's time to revisit that law.
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