WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) agreed to co-sponsor a bill Thursday that would repeal a law he voted for which gives broad legal immunity to gun makers and dealers, after months of attacks from rival presidential candidate Hillary Clinton concerning his gun safety record.
The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was passed in 2005, after the National Rifle Association made its passage a priority in order to shield gun manufacturers and sellers from lawsuits. Suits filed in the 1990s and early 2000s argued that they should make their products safer or track where their products are sold. The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre called the PLCAA “the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in 20 years.”
Sanders voted for the legislation; Clinton voted against it.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) introduced the Equal Justice for Gun Violence Victims Act, which would repeal the law, Wednesday. While Sanders resisted any suggestion that his vote was a mistake, he had inched towards saying that he would be open to revisiting the issue. Blumenthal and Murphy’s bill provided gun safety advocates with an opportunity to press Sanders and he announced support for it just before the last Democratic primary debate this month. Clinton's campaign said he was flip-flopping on the issue.
On Thursday, Sanders said he would co-sponsor the legislation, dropping a previous demand he had made that the law must contain protections for small gun shops for him to put his name on the bill.
Gun rights advocates pushing for PLCAA argued that lawsuits would bankrupt gun makers and sellers. But safety supporters advocating for its repeal say that the mere fact that plaintiffs would have a right to go to court under their legislation doesn’t mean they’ll succeed. They also argue that lawsuits have successfully changed the way the tobacco industry markets its products and helped ensure the safety of motor vehicles, so the gun industry should be held to the same standards of care.
“Repealing PLCAA would not mean anyone would automatically be held liable -- it would merely put gun makers and dealers on equal footing with everyone else. But while the law remains on the books, our absurd reality is that the gun industry, which sells the most dangerous consumer product on the market, is subject to the lowest duty of care in the country,” Blumenthal and Schiff wrote in a post on Medium Wednesday. “By providing this unique immunity, Congress has effectively empowered the gun industry to ignore best practices and act with impunity. Rather than adopting commonsense policies that could reduce the deadly tide of gun violence across the nation, negligent sellers and manufacturers are protected from the consequences of their actions.”
“We respect the politicians who realize it was a mistake and try to amend the mistake”
“This great victory is proof of what can happen when the public holds politicians accountable -- which is happening on the gun violence prevention issue like never before,” Gross said in a statement. “Senator Sanders has defended his checkered record on gun safety very comfortably until very recently – until the American people held his feet to the fire. They knocked on his door and flooded his office with phone calls demanding action. And Sanders finally took notice. His next step must be to champion this legislation in Congress.”
Gross pointed out that the family of Josh Adames, who was accidentally shot and killed by a friend in 2001, met with Sanders’ senate staff Wednesday. Hours after that meeting, Sanders’ office reached out to the Brady campaign to say he’d cosponsor the legislation.
Adames was killed while visiting his friend's home in Chicago. His friend, who wanted to show off his father’s gun, removed the gun’s magazine and fired at Adames, thinking there were no longer any bullets in the weapon. But a bullet still in the chamber hit Adames in the stomach. His family’s lawsuit against Beretta, the maker of the gun, claimed that the company failed to put proper warnings or safety mechanism on the gun. But PLCAA blocked their suit in the Supreme Court, which declined to consider it in 2009.
Hector Adames, Josh’s uncle, told The Huffington Post Wednesday that they were happy with Sanders' support of the legislation and that “any help, whether it comes early or late, is well received.”
“We respect the politicians who realize it was a mistake and try to amend the mistake,” he added. “The problem was refusing to change, that hurts the cause, when there's no growth there.”
Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who is sponsoring the law in the House, said that “it was a tragedy that this bill was passed in the first place,” when asked at a press conference Thursday about whether he, Blumenthal and Murphy were pushing their legislation because of the attention PLCAA has gotten in the Democratic primary. “Without personalizing it to the presidential candidates … the harm has already been done,” he added.