House Democrats propose opening gun makers to civil liability

House Democrats on Tuesday proposed legislation that would ease current law to allow people to file civil law suits against gun manufacturers and others in the industry when they act irresponsibly.

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The Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), would amend the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). According to Schiff, that 2005 law gives gun manufacturers, distributors and gun dealers immunity from most civil negligence and product liability actions.

Schiff said his bill is needed to allow suits to go forward when these entities are found to be negligent, or for product liability issues.

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"Numerous cases around the nation have been dismissed on the basis of PLCAA even when the gun dealers acted in a fashion that would qualify as negligent if it involved any other product," Schiff said in a letter to House colleagues seeking support for his bill. "The victims in these cases are denied the right to even discover and introduce evidence of negligence.

"My bill will reinstate the intent of PLCAA, allowing civil cases to go forward against irresponsible actors," he added. "Letting courts hear these cases would provide justice to victims while creating incentives for responsible business practices that would reduce injuries and deaths. At the same time, my bill will provide protection for gun companies who are sued when they do not act negligently, which was the purpose of PLCAA."

Schiff added that current law only protects the "worst actors in the industry," and said that "good gun companies don't need special protection from the law; bad companies don't deserve it."

Schiff's bill is co-sponsored by 11 other house Democrats, including Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

On Wednesday, Schiff introduced a separate bill that would create a new, two-year sentence for "straw purchasers" of firearms, or people who are buying weapons for people who cannot pass a background check.

"The laws currently on the books targeting straw purchasers of firearms don't treat it as anything other than a paperwork violation," he said. "We need to crack down on those who are buying weapons with the express purpose of providing them to those who can't pass a background check.

"Straw purchasing is not a 'paperwork' violation — it's a serious crime that has led to a horrendous increase in criminal access to firearms."

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