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Frivolous Lawsuits Once Again Threaten the Gun Industry

YAHOO NEWS.COM September 18, 2019 – In 2005, a wave of lawsuits threatened to bankrupt the gun industry. These suits were based on — pick your adjective — “creative,” “novel,” “inventive,” and “imaginative” legal theories that rarely held up in court, and they did their damage primarily by forcing gun companies to incur the costs of defending against them. Congress, seeing the problem, stepped in to put a stop to it — or at least tried to — by passing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).

A decade and a half later, anti-gun activists have responded with yet more new legal theories, and the Connecticut courts have bought one of them. Some families victimized by the Newtown massacre are being allowed to pursue a wrongful-death claim against Remington, which owns Bushmaster, the company that made the rifle used in the attack.

The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to take the case and reverse the Connecticut supreme court’s decision. It should, as numerous briefs from gun-rights supporters have argued this month.

The problem here traces back to a flurry of legal activity in the 1980s and 1990s. Anti-gun activists faced a conundrum: It’s easy enough to file a wrongful-death suit against someone who committed murder with a gun, or to sue a company that sold a defective gun, or to go after a gun store that knowingly sold a gun to a criminal. But the activists didn’t just want to punish those who broke the existing rules; they thought the rules were too lax, and they’d had little success getting legislatures to change them.

So they sued gun companies for following the rules, spinning elaborate theories about why different, stricter rules should apply instead. Those companies were creating a “public nuisance.” They were “oversupplying” guns to high-crime neighborhoods, or continuing to send guns to stores that had had too many crimes traced back to them, or making products that appealed to the wrong sorts of people. Never mind how bizarre it is to hold a company liable for the criminal misuse of its legal products; never mind that state and federal governments had already written detailed laws about which guns were legal to sell and how gun sales were to take place; never mind that the targeted companies were following the prescribed process of dealer licenses and background checks; never mind that the alleged “bad apple” gun stores were licensed by the federal government to continue selling guns. If legislatures wouldn’t draw the lines the way the activists wanted, maybe judges and juries would instead.

Practically speaking, the problem with these suits was not that they had much chance of succeeding on the merits. The plaintiffs almost never won. Rather, the suits threatened to drown the industry in a sea of legal costs. [Read More]

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