Editorial: Gun Dealers Should Be Held Responsible

Discussion
Apr 05, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

An editorial in the Christian Science Monitor says Congress should vote against pending legislation “that would grant broad immunity from liability in civil lawsuits to
gun manufacturers and dealers.”

The publication acknowledges that most gun dealers abide by the law but that over half of all crimes committed with a gun are purchased from the one percent of dealers who have
reckless disregard for public safety.

The Monitor points to the case of the Washington, D.C.-area sniper. The rifle used in the shootings was originally sold in a gun shop in Washington state, which had no
record of having made the sale or having done a background check on the buyer. Under existing law, the dealer ($2 million) and manufacturer ($500,000) paid civil penalties to
the victim’s families. Presumably, if the pending legislation had been enacted prior to these murders, neither party would have been subject to civil action.

Moderator’s Comment: Should a gun dealer or any other merchant involved in selling products used in carrying out a crime be held civilly liable in the
case? Should Congress pass legislation granting dealers who follow the rules immunity from civil lawsuits?

George Anderson – Moderator

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

13 Comments on "Editorial: Gun Dealers Should Be Held Responsible"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Doug Fleener
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

I believe that as long as a product is legal to sell, and the retailer follows the law, then I don’t see how they can be held liable. Then again, we now sue fast food restaurants for serving us what we want. I don’t think that laws need to be enacted but rather the courts uphold the laws as they are written.

MARK DECKARD
Guest
MARK DECKARD
15 years 10 months ago
Sorry Jeff, but I’m with Beef, and mf is on point with vicarious liability and liability limitations. The instrumentality that can be used to kill living things is an endless list and the intent of the manufacturer’s use of the product has little bearing. Analogies of injuries caused by the items on the endless list are endless as well. We’re talking about intentional criminal behavior here and, if the intent is there, gun, baseball bat, knife, piano wire, iron pipe, rocks or bare hands, will suffice. It’s high time to put the focus on punishing the CRIMINALS for criminal behavior instead of looking past the behavior for a deep pocket to raid. Clean up the streets, and crime falls. Incidentally, the underreported statistics are that in places where private gun ownership among law abiding citizens is high, the occurrence of gun related crime is much lower. Hence, criminals tend to prey on weak, unprotected targets. The police and military can’t be everywhere they need to be with THEIR guns, so I’m glad for our 2nd… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 10 months ago
It’s tempting to be facetious and support Ben’s suggestion about suing car manufacturers and dealers for the damage their products do to the environment. Very tempting, indeed. But I shall refrain. Instead, sticking to the question about guns leaves me wondering how to define and limit personal responsibility. We all claim to believe in it and, for most of us contributing to RW, to practice it. We also berate those who try to squirm out of it. Under which heading would come the manufacturers and retailers of products that they know can, and frequently will, be used to create mayhem? Unlike Ben, I have not read the actual legislation and I would prefer to believe that his interpretation is correct rather than that expostulated by Christian Monitor. I am not one to sympathise with the lawyers who grow rich on other people’s misery. Nor would I be impressed by insurance companies who put up their fees to cover those manufacturers and retailers who would, in their turn, put up prices for legitimate customers who would… Read more »
Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 10 months ago
…and that, Bernice, is exactly what our Constitution provides for in the form of the Amendment process. It gives the PEOPLE the right to amend the Constitution with ratification by three fourths of the States. Before that, it must receive a two thirds vote in the Senate. So our legislative process does provide a very specific and accessible means for “adapting to society’s needs.” This particular issue (and I’m sure there are others) is driven by the fact that a group which evidently still numbers considerably less than that three quarters is dissatisfied with having to abide by that process and are looking for other avenues to impose their will de facto on the population as a whole. There’s a whole other side to this coin that involves the judiciary’s requirement to apply the law versus interpret and amend it in their rulings. But if we go there, I’ll start making comments about judge’s egos and judicial restraint and my name will wind up on some list I’m sure I don’t want to be on… Read more »
Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

I agree with Ben that the issue should go to the legislature, and not dealt with in the courts. As long as selling guns is legal, the only people that will benefit from these lawsuits will be the lawyers. However, to say that liability in the selling of guns should be considered in the same way as the sale of hot coffee and box cutters is a bit naive. Guns are products that are specifically designed to kill things. You can kill someone with bottled water too, if you try hard enough, but that’s not what it’s designed to do. As faulty as a ruling like this may be, it’s hard to see how the precedent could be extended to airplanes and dog food. Yes, better laws are needed to keep guns out of the hands of the bad guys, so let’s be realistic about this.

Rip Rowan
Guest
Rip Rowan
15 years 10 months ago

The answer to your question is a resounding “NO!” Actually, I prefer to answer with a question: “What has happened in this country with requiring individuals to be responsible for their actions?”

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 10 months ago
With all due respect, Beef, that is not just stupid. Product liability law in this country has evolved over about a hundred years, and it’s not quite as simplistic as you would make it out to be. The fact is that guns are primarily designed to kill living things, despite the existence of target shooting, which is basically practice for killing living things, even if the owner never actually does that. That makes guns, as a product, quite different than a boxcutter. Guns, like other inherently dangerous products, are sold at the sufferance of the legislature, otherwise they no doubt would have fallen under the weight of the litigation Ben Ball describes above. Legislation defines how they can be sold and what liability those have who make and sell them. No one should seriously argue that these parties could not have foreseen the danger of this product. We as a society choose to allow them to be sold anyway, and provide certain protections to enable such commerce. So, to me, it only makes sense that… Read more »
Franklin Benson
Guest
Franklin Benson
15 years 10 months ago
The term is “vicarious liability.” It’s meant to be used in cases where the retailer was negligent – for instance, a bartender serving more booze to a visibly drunk person who goes out and has a car accident. In the case of a firearm retailer, the fear is that the retailer and the manufacturer could be found liable for ANY criminal use of the firearm. A poorly worded law would in fact allow just that. Ideally, the retailer and manufacturer would still be liable for defective product (I’m at a shooting range using the gun in a safe and legal manner, and it blows up in my hand. I’d like to be able to still be compensated for my injury), but would not be liable for criminal use, assuming reasonable steps like the instant background check were performed. And furthermore, that limit on liability should extend to all products, not just firearms. A car manufacturer should not be liable when it is used to speed. But they should be liable when the brakes don’t work… Read more »
Chuck Hartwig
Guest
Chuck Hartwig
15 years 10 months ago

Hey, we have some good discussion going. My last word….I remember when Ralph Nader wanted to ban my Corvair. Oh well, good discussion.

Tillman Estes
Guest
Tillman Estes
15 years 10 months ago
The gun topic is hotly debated; on that issue, most agree. Where the Constitution stands for gun ownership, some still attempt to debate. We have attempted for years to blame others for wrongs that exist, for the evil that occurs all without taking responsibility for ourselves. Where will this blame game end? Do we hold the nursery and the apple farmer accountable for providing the wicked queen the apple she laced with a potion later to be fed to Snow White? I say no. From a supply chain perspective, I am against holding the suppliers to the factory, manufacturer, transport company, wholesaler, regional distributor and the retailer accountable for selling a hammer to a teen that is later used in a crime. The hammer, an effective tool when used properly, only becomes the tool of destruction when used for evil intent. After all, was not dynamite created for helping the miners? Guns must be respected, locked and treated with care to keep out of reach of children and the known felons. The assumption is that… Read more »
Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 10 months ago
There is a tremendous amount of “disinformation” being published on the intent of the bills in question. Of course, all legislation is subject to interpretation, but based on my own reading of the bills as they are currently written, neither would prevent the civil suit cited in the Washington D.C. case. The purpose of these bills is NOT to give the gun industry any additional immunity for illegal acts. Nor is it to prevent them from being penalized for failing to follow administrative procedures as in the example cited. The purpose IS to prevent the myriad of unfounded liability suits being filed by local, city and state governments charging gun manufacturers with criminal and (more often and more importantly) financial responsibility for the acts of criminals. It is, in essence, a two-pronged attempt to a) extract financial windfalls ala the tobacco industry, and b) try to create de facto gun control through a coordinated attempt to bankrupt the industry through legal fees. In one sense, this is a monumental test of the power of the… Read more »
Chuck Hartwig
Guest
Chuck Hartwig
15 years 10 months ago

That is just STUPID. You could hold a car dealer accountable, if a car is used to kill someone. A grocery store that sells housewares could be held accountable if a paring knife was used in a crime. Maybe you should hold a store that sells dog food accountable if a well fed dog bites someone. The attacks of 9-11… they used box cutters. Can we hold them accountable?? The airplanes…can their manufacturer be held accountable?? McDonald’s was held accountable for that “destructive” cup of hot coffee. I put this in that category!!

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 10 months ago

Silverstone, if you read my last paragraph, you’ll see I’m am supporting this law, but I am pointing out that guns are not the same as, for example, pipes. As Mr. Benson rightly points out, the law already recognizes vicarious liability, and it does so in the case of guns as well, and that liability is both statutory–background check requirements, etc–and possibly common law (the subject of the lawsuits). These bills are designed to limit vicarious liability to those statutory restrictions and explicitly include common law concepts that might include, for example, liability for selling a gun to someone who “looks really mean and angry” a gun. That would be the analog to a bartender being liable for serving to someone who “appears drunk.”

To be clear: I agree with the effort to limit such common law vicarious liability in the case of selling guns. I agree with these bills, having read the texts. This is not a Second Amendment issue, either.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

Should a gun dealer or any other merchant involved in selling products used in carrying out a crime be held civilly liable in the case?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...