In most cases, a responsible gun dealer -- or manufacturer, for that matter -- should not be at risk for what a customer does with a firearm. But that common-sense policy is being stood on its head by an irrational bill about to be taken up by Congress.
The legislation essentially handcuffs the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and makes it harder to sue gun dealers and manufacturers. The bill, introduced by Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig and Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., virtually makes the gun industry bulletproof even when negligence on the part of dealers or manufacturers results in death.
The bill would quash all lawsuits against the gun industry, except where there is absolute evidence that the gun dealer knowingly broke the law. The problem, of course, is knowing what's in a person's mind. The bill essentially would give almost blanket protection against gun makers and dealers from suits seeking damages.
Gun advocates contend the legislation would prevent frivolous lawsuits. They further maintain that laws already on the books prohibit illegal activity. Every retail gun sale, for example, has to undergo an FBI background check.
We don't see a problem with protecting dealers from broad class-action lawsuits based solely on what someone does with a gun purchased from a responsible dealer. But this bill would also protect irresponsible dealers.
In addition to stopping cities and states from filing lawsuits against the gun industry, it would preclude civil lawsuits like the ones filed by the families of the victims of the Washington, D.C., snipers, who used a rifle that was among the 283 guns "lost" by a Tacoma gun dealer over a three-year period. When was the last time a retailer lost 283 of anything? Yet this bill would protect that dealer from lawsuits.
This misguided legislation could end up harming gun users themselves. A hunter, for example, would not be able to sue even if a poorly made gun blew up in his face.
This page has no problem with Americans owning guns. But we do have a problem with gun advocates who block any legitimate effort to make sure guns don't get into the wrong hands.
According to FBI and state records, 35 people whose names appeared on terrorism watch lists were permitted to buy guns. That's how surreal the situation has become. It seems there is no limit to efforts to protect anybody and everybody involved in the manufacture and sale of firearms.
This legislation is another in a long litany of efforts to prevent any gun legislation that would increase public safety. President Bush signed a law in January 2004 to allow the government to destroy all records from background checks of gun purchasers after 24 hours. Of course, dealers at gun shows in most states can sell their wares without a background check.
Gun advocates view any limits on gun sales or liability for negligence as an assault on their rights as citizens. That is far from the case.
What this bill would do is give the gun industry the kind of immunity enjoyed by no other industry. It does not deserve passage.