Editor’s Note: This editorial ran under the title “Why Hillary Clinton Is Wrong on the Protection In Lawful Commerce in Arms Act” as an op-ed posted online at CNN.com, October 26, 2015. The opinions expressed in this commentary are by Larry Keane, NSSF senior VP and general counsel. We’re presenting the unedited version of his remarks.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the landmark Protection in Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). Hillary Clinton made it an issue in the [Oct. 13] Democratic debate to score political points, but her claims about the law are blatantly false. PLCAA simply blocks lawsuits that attempt to hold firearms industry companies liable for the criminal actions of third parties who misuse the industry’s lawful products.
The debate was not the first time Mrs. Clinton has prevaricated about the law. At an Oct. 7 forum in Iowa, Clinton wrongly claimed, “They are the only business in America that is wholly protected from any kind of liability. They can sell a gun to someone they know they shouldn’t, and they won’t be sued. There will be no consequences.”
According to PolitiFact, “Clinton said the gun industry is ‘the only business in America that is wholly protected from any kind of liability.’ Clinton is talking about a law that says the gun industry is protected from liability in certain instances, but the law also specifies several situations in which the gun industry is susceptible to lawsuits. Further, Congress has passed a number of laws that protect a variety of business sectors from lawsuits in certain situations, so the situation is not unique to the gun industry.” That’s why PolitiFact determined her rhetoric about the law to be entirely false.
PLCAA was passed in response to dozens of baseless lawsuits orchestrated to put gun companies out of business based on circumstances entirely beyond their control. Suing gun companies for criminals misusing their products is akin to suing Sears if one of their hammers is used in a murder or Ford for one of its cars being used to purposely run someone down.
Mrs. Clinton, as an attorney and U.S. Senator who voted on the law should understand this. The bill expressly allows suits based on knowing violations of federal or state law related to gun sales, or on traditional grounds including negligence or breach of contract. The bill also allows product liability cases involving actual injuries caused by a defective firearm.
In addition, Congress has regularly passed limitations on liability for other industries, including small aircraft manufacturers, internet service and content providers and vaccine makers.
Without these protections many of America’s most critical industries would go out of business from the time and costs of frivolous lawsuits. Industries cannot and should not be held culpable for the wrongdoings of individuals who purchase their products legally and then proceed to use them illegally.
Individuals that sell and purchase firearms illegally give the entire industry a bad name and hurt the reputation of law-abiding manufacturers and owners. The blatant mischaracterization by Mrs. Clinton and other anti-gun politicians that is designed to stoke anger and fear only clouds what should be a simple debate.
The firearms industry exists today, in part, because PLCAA protects the lawful manufacturing and selling of products that provide for the exercise of a Constitutionally-protected right of Americans. As we note the 10-year anniversary of this law, we call on politicians to get their facts straight when discussing it and urge lawmakers to defend the law for the common sense reform that it represents.
But don’t hold your breath. The silly season of political rhetoric is heating up and Mrs. Clinton and other candidates have made a clear decision to target gun ownership as a campaign issue. At the same time, gun sales are breaking all-time records and new gun owners are discovering the dishonesty that characterizes the rhetoric of anti-gun candidates.
Time will tell if the politicians have miscalculated in their decision to attack the constitutional right that millions of Americans exercise lawfully and responsibly.
By Larry Keane
As noted above, an edited version of this essay appears on CNN.com. SI Digital readers, click the “Online Extra!” logo to read Keane’s op-ed and watch Hillary Clinton’s comments on PLCAA.