Why Hillary Clinton is wrong on gun liability

Hillary Clinton: Sanders isn't tough enough on guns
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Story highlights

  • Monday marks the 10th anniversary of a law that provides limited protection for gun manufacturers against lawsuits
  • Larry Keane: Hillary Clinton has exaggerated the extent to which the law protects the industry

Larry Keane is senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade association representing manufacturers, distributors, retailers, shooting ranges, sportsmen's organizations and publishers. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the landmark Protection in Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Hillary Clinton commented about it in the Democratic debate, but her claims about the law are blatantly false.

Attempting to draw a contrast to her opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton said, "It was pretty straightforward to me that he was going to give immunity to the only industry in America. Everybody else has to be accountable, but not the gun manufacturers."
PLCAA simply blocks baseless lawsuits that attempt to hold firearms industry companies liable for the criminal actions of third parties who misuse the industry's lawfully sold products.
    The debate was not the first time Clinton has prevaricated about the law.
    At an October 7 forum in Iowa, she wrongly claimed, "They are the only business in America that is wholly protected from any kind of liability. They can sell a gun to someone they know they shouldn't, and they won't be sued. There will be no consequences."
    According to Politifact, "Clinton said the gun industry is 'the only business in America that is wholly protected from any kind of liability.' Clinton is talking about a law that says the gun industry is protected from liability in certain instances, but the law also specifies several situations in which the gun industry is susceptible to lawsuits. Further, Congress has passed a number of laws that protect a variety of business sectors from lawsuits in certain situations, so the situation is not unique to the gun industry." That's why Politifact determined her rhetoric about the law to be entirely false.
    PLCAA was passed in response to dozens of frivolous lawsuits encouraged by Bill Clinton's White House to put gun companies out of business based on circumstances entirely beyond their control.
    Suing gun companies for criminals misusing their lawfully sold products is akin to suing Sears if one of their hammers is used in a murder or Ford for one of its cars being used to purposely run someone down. This is why, before the federal law was enacted, over 30 states also passed tort reform laws to stop this pernicious strain of lawsuits designed to bankrupt an entire industry or impose gun control through litigation that Congress and the American public simply don't support.
    Hillary Clinton, as an attorney and U.S. senator who voted on the law, should understand this.
    The bill expressly allows suits based on knowing violations of federal or state law related to gun sales or on traditional grounds including negligent entrustment or breach of contract. The bill also allows product liability cases involving actual injuries caused by a defective firearm.
    In addition, Congress has regularly passed limitations on liability for other industries, including small-aircraft manufacturers, Internet service and content providers and vaccine-makers.
    Without these protections, many of America's most critical industries would go out of business from the time and costs of frivolous lawsuits. Industries cannot and should not be held culpable for the criminal wrongdoing of others who misuse lawfully sold products.
    Individuals who sell and purchase firearms illegally give the entire industry a bad name and hurt the reputation of law-abiding manufacturers and owners. And the PLCAA provides them no safe harbor. The blatant mischaracterization by Clinton and other anti-gun politicians that is designed to stoke anger and fear only clouds what should be a simple debate.
    The firearms industry exists today, in part, because PLCAA protects the lawful manufacturing and selling of products that provide for the exercise of a Constitutionally protected right of Americans. As we note the 10-year anniversary of this law, we call on politicians to get their facts straight when discussing it and urge lawmakers to defend the law for the common sense reform that it represents.
    But don't hold your breath. The silly season of political rhetoric is heating up, and Clinton and other candidates have made a clear decision to target gun ownership as a campaign issue. At the same time, gun sales appear to be breaking all-time records, based on the number of background checks conducted and new gun owners are discovering the dishonesty that characterizes the rhetoric of anti-gun candidates.
    Time will tell if the politicians have miscalculated in their decision to attack the constitutional right that millions of Americans exercise lawfully and responsibly.