The Rachel Maddow Show | March 08, 2013
>>> in the fall of 2002 in the washington, d.c. , area, there were the sniper attacks, right? this was just a year after 9/11. the country was still unusually terrorized because of that anyway. and in the d.c. area, that fall, the two d.c. snipers killed ten people and wounded another three. they used a semiautomatic assault rifle called the bushmaster xm-15. the two men were eventually caught, tried and convicted on multiple charges including the illegal use of a firearm. but that was not the end of the legal rope. the families of some of the victims sued the company that made the product that they used to commit their xhicrimes. they sued bushmaster and the gun store that sold the bushmaster. they called selling those men that gun gross negligence . the lawsuit alleging that records from the -- the lawsuit alleged that records from the bureau of alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives showed that over a few years, hundreds of guns had day peered from that store without a paper trail . hundreds of guns completely unaccounted for, including the gun the snipers used to kill all those people. bushmaster and the gun store ended up settling with the victims' families. they paid out $2.5 million for that negligence.
>>> around the same period of time, the late 1990s and the early 2000s , there were a lot of things like this. even from some public housing authorities. people were taking gun manufacturers to court to try to hold them responsible. new york city , atlanta, chicago, gary, indiana, new orleans, miami, bridgeport, connecticut. more than two dozen other cities sued more than 20 gun manufacturers. they argued in many of these cases the gun industry had built up a distribution system for its product that allowed and even encouraged illegal sales. sales to people who should not have been able to buy guns legally. when warned that certain distributors are responsible for big proportions of the guns that ended up in the hands of criminals, the manufacturers just kept their distribution systems in place. no change. we don't care. we hope you are paying cash. the lawsuits holding gun manufacturers accountable for those decisions were exactly what the gun industry did not want to have to deal with. and so the gun industry made them go away. when new orleans sued the gun industry, the gun industry got the state of louisiana to pass a law giving the industry immunity from lawsuits. retroactively. atlanta got the state of georgia to give the industry immunity as well. in 2005 , they got the big kahuna . the gun industry had its fake populist front group , the nra lobby hard in congress for a federal grant of immunity from lawsuits. wayne lapierre , the chief executive of the nra said about the immunity bill, it's an historic piece of legislation. and he's right. no other industry has blanket immunity from lawsuits. but the gun industry does when it passed, "the new york times" noted that the gun liability bill has, for years, been the number one legislative priority of the national rifle association . it's not really the way the nra advertises itself, but it's kind of telling. the number one legislative priority of the national rifle association was not protecting hunters and sportsmen, sticking up for the rights and conveniences of america 's law-abiding gun owners . the number one legislative priority of the national rifle association was giving blanket immunity from lawsuits to the companies that make guns and sell them for a profit. joining us now is john lowe , director of the legal action project at the brady center to prevent gun violence . thanks for being with us. i appreciate your time.
>> my pleasure.
>> am i overstating it to say that in the united states of america , gun manufacturers have immunity from liability that no other industries have?
>> you're right. i mean, there's a basic principle of civil justice which governs everyone in society. that we all have to act reasonably. and if we don't, we are deemed negligent. we can be deemed liable. the only people that that rule does not apply to are licensed gun dealers, manufacturers and distributors.
>> does the industry behave in ways that they otherwise would not behave if they weren't immune from prosecution in your view?
>> there's no question about it. we have cases where gun dealers supply criminals profit from those sales and then they come up with defenses such as, i put a gun on the counter. i turned my back. what do you know, the criminal took the gun, left money on the counter for me and i didn't know that he was going to do that. that, as implausible as it sounds, is a compelling defense under this federal law that can get them off the hook.
>> what sort of lobbying effort did the gun manufacturers and the nra put into passing this tailor-made immunity bill for their own industry?
>> well, they misrepresented it. i mean, they would say that the bill was about preventing gun companies from being held liable when they did nothing wrong, but their gun was used in a criminal shooting. and the fact is these lawsuits were not seeking to impose liability for those cases. it was simply saying that if a gun company acted unreasonably, if they profited off criminals and they could have easily prevented it. or if they could have put a safety device on a gun that -- which would have prevented a kid from getting killed. these are the sort of principles that governor every other industry in america , including bb gun manufacturers. and that's what these cases were about.
>> wait, wait, wait. these kinds of -- that kind of protection you are talking about wouldn't apply to a bb gun manufacturer, but it does to a gun-gun manufacturer?
>> you can sue a bb gun manufacturer for not putting in a certain safety device. and that case will be heard by court. in fact, also the consumer product safety commission can require bb gun manufacturers to put safety devices into guns as it can do for any other product. guns get the double whammy. one, they get this special exemption from civil justice law, from products liability law. they also get exempt from consumer product safety commission . so the federal government can't force them to put in safety devices. as a result, there are safety devices which are literally over 100 years old. they cost less than $1. they would save the lives of children. there's no question about it. and, yet, they are not the industry standard in -- for guns in america .
>> one of the reasons we've been trying to focus on the gun manufacturers and their relationship with the nra , is because i find it to be politically important that the manufacturers are able to essentially stay out of the spotlight politically altogether. they largely fund the nra . the nra maintains itself publicly as if it is mostly a membership organization . it seems to me they are mostly doing what the industry wants. what the industry wants is for the nra to be out there taking all the criticism so they don't have to. it seems a manifestation is that the whole country isn't up in arms about the gun industry having liability that -- liability protection that no other industry has. what are the chances that this might get undone? it was only imposed in 2005 or 2006 .
>> well, representative adam schiff has introduced legislation which would undo the worst of this law. and it basically would say that negligence law, product liability law, these basic principles, will apply to gun companies. and that gun violence victims will have a right to their day in court, but to simply prove their case and say they're entitle ed entitled to -- it's got to get through the congress, but i am hopeful.
>> talk about a special interest piece of legislation. your industry gets immunity from liability and nobody else does. it's just -- it's incredible this exists. jon lowy, thanks for helping us understand this. appreciate your time.
>> thanks, rachel.
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