The Atlantic: One Quick Answer to Sandy Hook? Repeal the 2005 Arms Act

Should those who make and sell guns be immune from lawsuits?  One prominent legal analyst argues the law needs to change.  Check out Andrew Cohen’s article for The Atlantic.

Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and legal analyst for 60 Minutes. He is also chief analyst and legal editor for CBS Radio News and has won a Murrow Award as one of the nation's leading legal analysts and commentators. 

One Quick Answer to Sandy Hook? Repeal the 2005 Arms Act


A recent federal law shields the gun industry from liability for negligence. Its demise would be a good step forward after the Connecticut shooting tragedy.

On Sunday, while Republican lawmakers were refusing to go on the morning talk shows, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said that she would re-introduce federal legislation to ban assault weapons. On Monday, while National Rifle Association spokesmen remained in hiding, New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg announced that he would reintroduce a "high-capacity magazine ban." These bills likely will be among the first gun measures the new Senate will consider when it reconvenes in January, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday.

"In the coming days and weeks," Sen. Reid said, "we'll engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow violence to continue to grow." I don't know how "thoughtful" that conversation is likely to be -- Americans tend to become hysterical when it comes to guns -- but former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said in October that the court's landmark gun ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, is no impediment to a federal ban on automatic weapons.

So while Congress begins to contemplate these measures -- while we all engage in another bitter and divisive round of political theater over how far other forms of gun regulation ought to go in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting; while the scope of the Supreme Court's Second Amendment jurisprudence is evaluated anew -- let me now suggest a relatively quick way in which our federal lawmakers can send a productive message about gun violence: Congress could repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

The Bush-era legislation immunizes gun manufacturers and gun dealers from civil liability for crimes committed with their weapons. It gives the gun industry a powerful legal defense that most other industries do not enjoy, and it creates disincentives about gun safety at the point of sale. The law strips the American people -- in this case jurors -- of the ability to render justice: to decide in court whether there are sufficient facts in negligence cases to hold gun makers and sellers financially responsible for the loss of life or limb caused by their goods.

The Arms Act does not touch upon the core of the Second Amendment's newly recognized individual right. Nor would it have had an impact upon the Connecticut shooting -- no one alleges that alarms should have been raised when the shooter's mother purchased the arsenal of weapons her son later used to gun down school administrators and all those children. But it's nevertheless a law which declares that gun transactions are somehow so necessary that the people who carry them out warrant special protection under law. This is patently absurd.

Read the full acticle on The Atlantic's website here