My Denver Post Article Opposing Immunity for the Gun Industry

June 8, 2003

Are Guns Above the Law?

Gun Makers and Sellers Are Not

Imagine a world in which one of its' most dangerous products is exempt from consumer protection laws. Imagine a world in which the makers and sellers of that product are immune from civil lawsuits related to that product.

You're not in an imaginary world. The first scenario is already the case, and second is close to happening, here in America.

When consumer protection laws were developed, the gun lobby convinced Congress to exempt guns from regulation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That means your child's toy gun is subject to greater regulation than a real gun.

Recently Colorado was shocked by the tragic accidental shooting of 11-year-old Sahil Ahmed. He was shot by a friend who thought a handgun was empty because the magazine was removed. This tragic mistake has occurred before, and many times manufacturers have been urged to change designs so a bullet doesn't stay in the chamber after the magazine is removed-or to at least place an indicator warning that a bullet is in the chamber. But why should gun makers change? They're exempt from regulation.

Having this unprecedented exemption apparently isn't enough. The House recently passed a bill that will provide gun makers and sellers immunity from virtually all current and future civil lawsuits related to the use of guns. The Senate and President are expected to approve it.

They're poised to prohibit one group-gun violence victims--the right to seek redress in civil courts, providing the broadest legal protection ever granted to one industry.

Gun activists say immunity is needed because of frivolous lawsuits. Perhaps some lawsuits are frivolous, but that's why we have a court system--to sort them out. But this law wouldn't even allow a case with merit to proceed. The law of unintended consequences comes into play here-it's entirely possible that a host of negligent and felonious parties will escape any liability for their acts or failures to act.

Gun activists say immunity is appropriate because of the Second Amendment, but that Amendment speaks of a right to bear arms, not of a right to immunity for arms makers and sellers. Likewise, the First Amendment doesn't immunize publishers from libel suits.

Gun activists say immunity is needed because it's unfair for gun makers to be sued for a buyer's unlawful use of a gun. But it's not that simple. The way guns are sold can enable criminals to obtain guns-e.g., failing to question large quantity sales.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, responsible for regulating gun dealers, says that a small number of dealers are responsible for selling the majority of new guns traced to crimes. Why does the gun industry want to shield these bad apples?
Robert Ricker, a whistleblower who once was an attorney for the NRA and spokesman for the gun makers, says the gun industry has failed to crack down on questionable dealers and rejected his proposals to establish stricter guidelines for the industry.

Gun makers say they can't be responsible for policing the dealers who sell their guns. But most manufacturers go to great lengths to control distribution of their products. Why not gun makers?

Gun makers say it's up to the BATF to police gun dealers. However, for years the gun lobby has fought strongly against any increase in funding or regulatory power for the BATF! The NRA's top executive has referred to BATF agents as "jack-booted thugs." Does the gun lobby really expect us to believe they support BATF oversight of gun dealers?

Gun activists say this legislation is simply part of tort reform. It's far beyond that. Most tort reform is aimed at limiting amounts of punitive damages, not at immunizing an entire industry. There surely are plenty of industries that would welcome such immunity.

Gun activists say gun makers are under attack and need protection. But we've heard other industries make that claim before. Automakers, for example, have said it's unfair to blame them for the misuse of a car by a driver. Yet, despite lawsuits, automakers still exist and thrive. More important, while automakers faced civil lawsuits, they made safety improvements in automobiles. Do you really think we'd see as many improvements if not for civil lawsuits? Lawsuits can succeed in reforming where reluctant regulators and heavily lobbied legislators fear to tread.

If we provide unprecedented immunity to the gun industry, where's the incentive to make guns safer and not easily slipping into the hands of criminals?

I hear lots of rhetoric about how the gun industry believes in responsibility and accountability. Well, it's time they start acting like it. It's time for them to accept responsibility and accountability like the rest of America and stop asking for special treatment not afforded to others. Gun makers and sellers are not above the law.

Tom Mauser ( is the father of Columbine High School massacre victim Daniel Mauser and was the lobbyist and chief spokesman for SAFE Colorado and the Amendment 22 campaign in 2000

Also on this site is my response to those who wrote to me in opposition.

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