Why Bernie’s Defense of Gun Maker Liability Law is a Dealbreaker

It’s mea culpa time.

I was planning to vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary when the time came. My original support was for Martin O’Malley, but I was one of, shall we say, not a sea but a droplet of support for the man. Bernie was my second choice, because I thought Bernie was the second-most progressive candidate in the race. Although, it’s only by a hair over Hillary.

gunloon 4I know, I know. Bernie stans think I’m a dipshit because, as they see it, Bernie is the bestest, most incredible-est and most progressive candidate in the history of all candidates and to not think so is just unfathomable. However, if you look at the actual record – and I mean the ACTUAL record, not the one the right wing has been selling us for a generation – they’re not that different, really. Until the last couple of days.

You see, I have no problem with the fact that Bernie Sanders voted for an unctuous bill that shielded gun makers from liability lawsuits. That’s bad, but for most of his time in Congress, Bernie has been in the minority (primarily because the Bernie stans put him there and don’t see the irony) and everyone in a congressional minority has to make a few votes that are, um, unfortunate. However, his excuse, given at the I-wish-it-was-the-final Democratic debate Sunday night, was immensely lame:

“If you go to a store and you legally purchase a gun, and three days later you go out and start killing people, is the point to hold the gun shop owner or the manufacturer of that gun liable? If that’s the point, I disagree,” he said. “If they are selling a product to a person who buys it legally, what you’re talking about is ending gun manufacturing in America.” (Source)

I’m sorry, but that’s just clueless in the extreme. And to the Bernie stans who have been ragging on me for days for saying so, no, it is not “logical.” Not in the least. Now, I don’t know if it’s ignorance of the system of torts in this country or ignorance of the law itself, but it’s definitely purely ignorant. Apparently, Bernie and his followers seem to believe that a lawyer can just file a lawsuit and collect millions of dollars if Smith & Wesson made a gun and someone purchased it and used it to shoot up a school, or a movie theater or something. As usual, those who claim “passion” about someone or something need to sit down and think about it a little more. Seriously.

It takes a lot more than someone buying a gun manufactured by a particular gun maker and using it to shoot people. In order to win a suit like that, the person filing suit and their lawyer have to prove that the gun maker could have done something to prevent it, but failed to, or that they made the gun defective somehow. It’s not as simple as, “your daughter was shot by her boyfriend, we feel bad for you, here’s some money.” That is not how our tort system works. Again, stop believing the horseshit the right wing feeds you. It’s bad enough when Fox News says stupid shit, we don’t need progressives doing the same.

Bernie rallyThe law that Bernie voted for and now defends, requires a court to throw out any case against “the manufacturer or SELLER (emphasis mine) of a (gun), or a qualified trade association, for damages, punitive damages, injunctive or declaratory relief, abatement, restitution, fines, or penalties or other relief, resulting from the criminal OR UNLAWFUL MISUSE (again, my emphasis) of a (gun) by the person or third party.” 15 USC sec. 7903(5)(A). Put simply, the law forbids a judge from even listening to the case arguments and the possible evidence. The court is required to pre-judge every such case without hearing an argument. If you don’t see a problem with that, you obviously don’t understand the purpose of litigation.

Judges already have the discretion to listen to the arguments and decide that the plaintiff hasn’t made the case. They also have the discretion to give the jury instructions in which he advises them to ignore the claimed liability against the gun maker. And no such award by a jury would survive appeal. I mean, if a gun maker made a gun to exacting standards and some asshole decides to buy about 20 of them online, loads them and goes to the local movie theater to massacre people, obviously the gun maker has no liability in that instance. No one would argue otherwise. It’s not about finding a scapegoat. And no judge will ever let such a claim move forward.  In that rare instance when an idiot judge does let it move forward, the appeals court will review it and throw it out because merely making a gun can’t possibly make someone liable for what someone does with it. In other words, our judicial system has many protections built in; it doesn’t need Congress weighing in and deciding cases even before anyone’s even made an argument. This law is just as stupid as mandatory sentencing laws that put people in prison for life for selling marijuana.

Look at another instance, however. There is “smart gun” technology currently available that would make it so that only the owner of a gun can actually pull the trigger and shoot someone. If someone else gets the gun, they can’t use it. First of all, imagine the suicides that would be prevented if the teenager’s father and mother were the only people in the house who could use the family gun. Then, imagine how many toddlers would be unable to shoot someone if they accidentally got hold of a gun. But more than that, imagine if, say, I don’t know, a son broke into his mother’s gun cabinet and stole her gun with the intention of shooting children at an elementary school. I know, hard to imagine, isn’t it? (Bernie stans and right wingers, that’s sarcasm.) Now, imagine if he got to the school, but the gun was equipped with technology that made it impossible for him to pull the trigger. Pretty cool, right? Well, like I said, that “smart gun” technology does exist, right now, as we speak, but there is no incentive for gun makers to actually implement this technology. One thing that could make them implement it would be litigation. Now, that litigation is impossible because of a law that Bernie continues to defend. That’s how litigation works, folks. It’s the reason why every toaster sold in a store has to comply with Underwriter’s Laboratory standards and other standards for electrical appliances. It’s why spoons and forks can’t be made with lead. It’s why you can’t buy lawn darts. It’s why car makers have recalled more than 36 million cars and will have to pay billions in judgments because airbag inflators are exploding. In other words, every manufacturer has to pay for the damage they could have prevented, except for gun makers.

Guns 1The law can’t cover every eventuality. We’re not psychic and we can’t expect gun makers to be, either. However, like every other product manufacturer that sells goods in this country, if a gun maker can make their products safer, they should have an obligation to do so. The ridiculous view that making gun makers liable for making their products as safe as possible will lead to the end of the gun industry is an argument stupid enough to gain strong praise from the NRA. Yes, that happened. So, why aren’t more people looking at this issue and asking why they did that? When the NRA says something, I’m immediately suspicious; why are you not?

Stop bending over backward to fuel your “passion” for Bernie by embracing a position on guns that is inexcusable. The gun issue is too important right now. Our gun culture has spun out of control and anyone who can’t see the ridiculousness of allowing gun makers to skate liability that every other manufacturer of every other product on the market has to embrace doesn’t get my vote. Sorry.

Like I said, I understand the vote; he needed to be reelected, but his defense of that position in 2016 is unfortunate, as is the embracing of that position as “logical” by people who are trying to make me believe Hillary’s vote on the Iraq War, which she has repudiated and apologized for, is immensely important and indicative of a lack of judgment now. Be consistent; it’s all I ask.

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