Congressional veto exposes gun hypocrisy

Congress made major news last week when, for the first time, it overrode President Obama’s veto, and enacted the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).

Regardless of whether one thinks the override was good or bad (the Brady Center is not taking a position), what’s striking is the hypocrisy of so many lawmakers. Some of our elected representatives’ strong defense of victim’s rights, raises the question — why do some members of Congress think victims of terrorism should have access to the court system, but victims of gun violence should not?

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JASTA authorizes United States courts to hear claims against sovereign nations in cases where a terrorist attack occurs on U.S. soil, and a victim of that attack alleges that the foreign nation knowingly supported the terrorists. Citing security concerns, President Obama vetoed JASTA.

But, with passionate appeals to fairness, most of Congress proclaimed that justice demanded giving victims their day in court. Senator Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyWhite House denies exploring payroll tax cut to offset worsening economy Schumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord GOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation MORE, for example, advocated for JASTA saying, “All they want is the opportunity to present their case in a court of law. And that’s what this legislation would give them.”

In a video urging Congress to override President Obama’s veto, Senator John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE said, “We should use every means available to prevent the funding of terrorism, and the victims of terrorism in our country should be able to seek justice.” From Senator Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP strategist predicts Biden will win nomination, cites fundraising strength 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters MORE: “I applaud my colleagues for joining together and with the American people to stand against President Obama’s attempt to deprive terror victims from receiving full recourse under the law.”

But these legislators’ words are hypocritical. Many of the same politicians, who profess a deep belief in the right of Americans to their day in court, apparently believe that victims of gun violence do not deserve that right.

In 2005, Congress enacted the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). And PLCAA is JASTA’s polar opposite. Where JASTA removes immunity in order to give victims access to the courts, PLCAA has been held to grant immunity to the gun industry and block victims from accessing U.S. courts in many cases. PLCAA even makes it more difficult for victims of gun related terrorism to have their day in court.

According to some PLCAA supporters, and some courts, a gun dealer who recklessly arms terrorists with AK-47s — and profits from terrorists — should have unique immunity from negligence liability. Many of the same members of Congress who voted for JASTA on the basis that victims deserve their day in court, voted for — and still support — PLCAA.

So, appeals to justice aside, it seems that a more accurate description of Cornyn’s views would be, “The victims of terrorism in our country should be able to seek justice unless the terrorist used a gun.”

Kelly Sampson is a coordinating attorney for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. This article neither endorses nor denounces the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act or President Obama’s Veto The Brady Center takes no position on JASTA.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.