Yesterday, Congress passed one of the most monstrous pieces of legislation seen on the Hill in the last several years. I know, I know–there’s been so much in this vein coming from this Congress that it’s hard to say which bill is merely monstrous and which godawlmighty MONSTROUS. But the hand-wrapped turd lily our worthy solons handed the gun industry is very high up there on the odious/odiferous scale.
Here’s how the New York Times described the bill:
The bill, which is identical to one approved in July by the Senate, is aimed at ending a spate of lawsuits by individuals and municipalities, including New York City, seeking to hold gun manufacturers and dealers liable for negligence when their weapons are used in crimes.
While it bars such suits, the measure contains an exception allowing certain cases involving defective weapons or criminal behavior by a gun maker or dealer, such as knowingly selling a weapon to someone who has failed a criminal background check.
Oh, and the name of this monstrosity? “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.”
What I want to know is why an industry needs special protection granted by Congress? The bill’s backers say its because the gun industry doesn’t have deep pockets. Bullcrap, since when is it the job of Congress to shower special treatment (including a free “get out of jail” card) on a specific industry? What other industry has ever received such treatment (i.e. immunity from consumer lawsuits)?
What I find astonishing in all this is that the Times reports that:
Fifty-nine Democrats joined 223 Republicans and the House’s lone independent to pass the bill.
Et tu, Bernie Saunders?? The fact that one of the most progressive Democratic members of the House voted for this godawful piece of crap is depressing beyond belief. Yeah, I understand that Bernie represents Vermont and that he’s running for a Senate seat. But I always thought of him as having a conscience, a backbone, a willingness to stand up for what’s right despite the short-term consequences. Bernie’s probably been doing some calculus and figures unless he adopts some “mainstream American values” he’ll get tarred and feathered as an out of touch radical in that Senate campaign. But wouldn’t you think that a politician in the independent-minded state of Vermont could speak there mind without fear of a Republican smear campaign? And if you don’t believe Bernie could’ve done such a thing, check out the roll call vote yourself.
On days like this I’m ashamed to be an American. Every time a troubled teenager sprays shotgun or semi-automatic weapons at their fellow school children in a cafeteria or an angry former military sniper shoots innocent people in cold blood, I’m not only ashamed to be an American; I’m ashamed that our federal elected representatives allowed this mess to happen. Not only have they abandoned the Brady Law which provided some minimal oversight over the most destructive weapons; now they’ve removed the right of the victims to sue the despicable companies that are profitting from sales of these killer weapons.
David Kairys has written an eloquent denunciation on constitutional grounds of this legislation at Slate.com. He points out that the original separation of powers provisions of the Constitution was meant to put an end to the practice used by parties to lawsuits rushing to their state legislature to pass a law resolving the issue in their favor. That’s why courts are assigned sole right to adjudicate lawsuits and not legislatures or Congress. But with this immunity legislation, the gun lobby attempts to turn 200 years of Constitutional law on its heads. What do you think other powerful industries and lobbies are going to do when challenged by a flood of lawsuits potentially fatal to their business?
Kairys also poses an interesting and especially pernicious rationale for gun industry sales to those 1% of gun dealers who supply 57% of weapons used in criminal activities:
The largest share of the handgun market, by far, is purchases by law-abiding people for self-defense, so it’s worth wondering why the manufacturers would knowingly feed the crime and youth market when it amounts to a small share of their business. The depths to which people sink for personal gain, and the rationalizations sometimes offered, never cease to amaze…The large self-defense market is driven by fear. Anything that increases fear—the school shootings at Columbine…9/11—increases the demand for handguns. The steady source for the fear that drives the handgun market is crime, particularly crimes committed with guns.
So there you have it. The gun industry knowingly sells its wares to dealers who facilitate crime in order to increase their own profits. I can’t muster sufficient words of outrage to describe my feelings about this. Where are those prophets of social protest, Amos and Isaiah when we need them?
If there’s any silver lining here, I’m glad to report that an attorney who’s successfully fought the gun industry plans to take this to federal Court (where it belongs on tomorrow’s docket):
Eight of the [Maryland] sniper victims or their relatives won a $2.5 million legal settlement from the manufacturer of the gun used in the shootings and the dealer in Washington State who sold it. Mr. LaPierre [of the NRA] said that suit would have been permitted under the law passed Thursday. But the lawyer who brought it, Dennis Henigan of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, disagreed.
Mr. Henigan said that while the dealer had violated federal law, the bill would have prevented the suit nonetheless because the violations did not pertain directly to the weapon used in the sniper shootings. He said he intended to challenge the bill on constitutional grounds, arguing that it deprives states of their right to legislate and deprives victims of their right to sue.
“We’re going to argue that this statute is literally unprecedented in American history,” Mr. Henigan said, “because it is the first time that the federal government will be stepping in and retroactively depriving injured people of their vested legal rights under state law, without providing them any alternative.”
More power to you, Mr. Henigan. And I hope those justices will lend an ear to your plea for justice not only for gun victims, but for all Americans who are heartsick at the sight of today’s rampant gun violence.
I usually don’t go in for moral hyberbole in this blog. But the gun industry and the National Rifle Association come about as close to pure evil as any institutions I know in American life. As we Jews say when speaking of Adolph Hitler or any enemy of our people: “May their memory be erased.” These two groups are truly enemies of life. They should be smited just like in the days of the Bible with a plague or some other suitable disaster. And the best plague I can think of would be a Supreme Court decision throwing out this piece of trash legislation. Supremes, are you listening?
To read more about Henigan’s legal strategy in challenging this bill, visit the Brady Center website.