Hold weapons dealers accountable

A proposed act would release dealers from civil liability for negligent gun sales.

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on a gun industry immunity act, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, on March 3. The act, which has already cleared the House, would protect from civil suits gun dealers, distributors, manufacturers and trade associations involved in negligent gun sales and security practices or making guns with foreseeable safety defects.

Fifty-nine senators have joined the National Rifle Association in sponsoring the act – one senator short of the number needed to stop a filibuster. President George W. Bush has said that if the bill passes, he will sign it into law, despite the fact that it severely limits government efforts to cut down on gun trafficking and improve safety standards, including adding gun locks and other childproofing devices to regulations.

A New York Times article on Feb. 16 explained how the passage of the bill would affect one high-profile case: the “D.C. sniper.” The families of eight people killed by the sniper have brought a lawsuit against Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply, the store from which the sniper stole his gun, for negligence in allowing 238 guns to be misplaced.

That’s right: Bull’s Eye has no record of where 238 guns in its inventory went over the last few months. Because “losing” a gun from your inventory is a violation of common law, as opposed to a legal violation, the passage of the act would protect Bull’s Eye – and other gun stores that routinely mishandle their inventory – from civil suits, even though a shop’s failure to keep track of its guns can have deadly consequences.

Meanwhile, the House is dilly-dallying about renewing the 1994 assault weapons ban, aka the Brady bill, which will expire in September if it is not renewed this year. The bill banned the sale of Uzis, AK-47s, 50-round clips, pistol grips for rapid hip firing, silencers and grenade launchers. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, has shown no intention of bringing the bill’s renewal to the floor for discussion.

The official reasoning behind S. 659 is that gun trafficking and illegal sales are matters for law enforcement, not courts. But the rhetoric doesn’t pan out: The House and

Senate also attached the Tiahrt amendment to the 2004 omnibus spending bill recently, effectively hobbling law enforcement. An omnibus spending bill has to be passed every year for Congress to keep functioning, but the Tiahrt amendment to this year’s bill requires the destruction of background check records within 24 hours of a gun’s sale. This drastically reduces the amount of time the FBI has to review these records to double check that guns were not sold to someone with a criminal record. Prior to the Tiahrt amendment, the FBI had 90 days.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., also prevents the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from auditing licensed gun dealers’ inventories. Consequently, the bureau will not know if a licensed gun dealer is losing inventory from its records, which is usually an indication that the gun dealer is selling guns without doing background checks.

Nonnegligent gun dealers are not sued. People who are not criminals have nothing to fear from the Brady bill. Honest gun dealers do not have anything to hide in their records. These congressional actions are not about protecting people. They are about bowing to the NRA and allowing gun dealers, distributors, manufacturers and trade associations to make as much money as they can, no matter how many people they kill in the process.

– R.R.S. Stewart welcomes comments at [email protected]