Editorials

Editorial: A gun exception that just proves the rule

Former Milwaukee police officer Graham Kunisch, who was shot several times, losing an eye and part of the frontal lobe of his brain, testifies Oct. 5 during the Badger Gun trial.
Former Milwaukee police officer Graham Kunisch, who was shot several times, losing an eye and part of the frontal lobe of his brain, testifies Oct. 5 during the Badger Gun trial. The Associated Press

An astounding thing happened last week in the world of gun sales: A dealer was found liable for negligently selling a gun used illegally.

In a nationally watched case, a Wisconsin jury found Oct. 13 that Badger Gun shop should pay nearly $6 million in damages for enabling the straw purchase of a semi-automatic pistol used to shoot two policemen.

An 18-year-old kid, too young to buy a gun, paid an older buddy $40 to buy it for him. Surveillance video showed the barely literate pair struggling to complete the two-page form required for purchase and the store clerk helpfully showing them how to flout the gun laws.

A month later, on June 9, 2009, the policemen stopped the kid for riding his bike on the sidewalk and he shot them both in the face, leaving one brain damaged and half blind, and seriously maiming the other.

Everybody else has to be accountable, but not the gun manufacturers, and we need to stand up and say, ‘Enough.’

Hillary Clinton

The case should have been a slam dunk. But because of a 2005 law passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush at the behest of the National Rifle Association, it is almost impossible to hold gun dealers accountable even for the most irresponsible actions.

The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act has utterly shielded gun manufacturers and sellers from lawsuits stemming from negligent sales of firearms.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont helped pass this dangerous and reprehensible legislation by becoming one of 59 House Democrats who joined 223 Republicans to vote for it. Now a Democratic presidential candidate, Sanders lamely defended his vote during last week’s presidential debate.

Hillary Clinton was more blunt: “Everybody else has to be accountable,” she said, “but not the gun manufacturers, and we need to stand up and say, ‘Enough.’ ”

The Wisconsin jury said that. But the case just shows how far backward we’ve bent for gun dealers. The police won only because the evidence was so damning.

That matters, because while gun control initiatives like that announced Oct. 15 by California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom could be important, few arguments are more compelling to an industry than those that cut right to the wallet; just ask Big Tobacco.

If federal lawmakers cared about safety, they’d alter the 2005 law so people who are injured because of the gun industry and irresponsible gun dealers can have their day in court.

Of course, if something that sensible ever were to emerge from Congress, it would be astounding indeed.

We support the Second Amendment and the rights of responsible guns owners, including the right to carry a concealed weapon.

Unfortunately, the NRA is more interested in helping gun and ammunition manufacturers pad their profits than in advocating for common-sense rules that help protect Americans from people who shouldn’t have guns and ammo – and from shady businesses that shouldn’t be selling them.

We won’t hold our breath waiting for the NRA to do the right thing. The organization proved beyond a reasonable doubt a long time ago that it has no sense of shame.

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