The short answer to that question used to be no, thanks to a pliant Congress and the Second Amendment. But there have been a few cases that squeaked through the courts and the recent mass shootings are liable to incite more anti-violence activists to take legal action.
Gun makers have traditionally been broadly protected by the Second Amendment but in 2005, following a number of mass killings, several cities sued manufacturers, trying to hold them responsible for the violence.
Nervous gun makers went to Congress, which promptly enacted the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which provides virtually blanket immunity for crimes committed with guns. The measure was sponsored by then-Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho).
However, as in any law, there are exceptions. The PLCAA permits a company to be sued if it can be shown to have knowingly violated laws relating to the marketing of its products.
That provision tripped up Remington. Parents of children killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School sued Remington, claiming it had promoted its Bushmaster rifle for criminal use. Remington agreed earlier this year to pay the families $73 million, the first settlement of its kind.
Other cases are working their way through the courts around the country and could result in opening more loopholes allowing for action against gun makers. Among them is a lawsuit against Smith & Wesson, filed by victims of a 2019 mass shooting at a California synagogue.
In Texas, the state Supreme Court ruled that Luckygunner.com, an online ammunition seller, was not protected by the PLCAA from a lawsuit by victims of a high school shooting at Santa Fe, Texas. The company is accused of illegally selling ammunition to minors.
Mexico has also lined up against U.S. gun makers, filing several lawsuits claiming that weapons manufacturers are designing and marketing their guns to appeal to drug cartels.
Canada is taking steps to avoid American-style carnage. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that Canada was banning hand-gun sales and would begin buying back military-style assault weapons. The sale of such weapons is already banned in Canada but owners have been allowed to keep their guns. Now the Canadian government will compel them to turn in their weapons.
And what of former Senator Larry Craig, author of the PLCAA? He is now retired from the Senate and serving on the board of the National Rifle Association (NRA). He talked about the Uvalde shootings in a recent interview.
“I think all of us are just heartbroken over this tragedy. And it is a tragedy, a human tragedy of the worst kind. And to affect innocent children in such a way, and their families is just almost beyond speak,” Craig said in a Boise radio interview. He blamed “dysfunction in Washington” for blocking possible solutions.
Legislation likely to misfire
Public outrage over the recent shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo is putting pressure on politicians as the midterm elections approach, with Democrats vowing to take action while knowing they lack the necessary majority to pass stringent measures in the Senate.
Saying it “makes no sense” for consumers to be able to buy weapons of mass destruction, President Biden said in Uvalde Sunday that an assault weapons ban would be a “rational” option.
Biden said the “Second Amendment was never absolute. You couldn’t buy a cannon when the Second Amendment was passed. You couldn’t go out and purchase a lot of weaponry.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has introduced gun-control legislation in the past but has never been able to get enough Republican support to win passage.
“The question we need to ask is, when we’ve got this much support across the country, 90 percent of Americans want to see us do – like registration – want to see us do background checks, want to get assault weapons off the streets, why doesn’t it happen?” Warren asked during one of the 2019 Presidential debates.
“The answer is corruption, pure and simple. We have a Congress that is beholden to the gun industry,” she said.
Money talks in Washington
Gun industry critics cite large and ongoing political contributions to Congressional representatives, although some politicians are quick to claim their constituents also line up squarely against gun control.
The Washington Post reported that the owners of Daniel Defense, the manufacturer of the rifle apparently used in the Uvalde massacre, have donated more than $70,000 directly to GOP candidates for federal office in just this election cycle, according to a review of filings with the Federal Election Commission.
The rifle, the DDM4 V7, sells for about $2,000, according to Daniel Defense’s website.
While increased gun sales and shootings have inflamed the public debate, they have also made it possible for gun manufacturers to up their political spending drastically, compensating to some extent for the declining infuence of the NRA.
Gun manufacturers contributed more than $37 million to political races in the 2020 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets, by far the highest amount ever.
Public support for stricter gun laws?
It’s commonly thought that Americans are strongly in favor of stricter gun laws but pollsters differ on the issue.
Statista Research cites survey data from May 25, 2022 – one day after the Uvalde shootings – showing that 65 percent of voters favor stricter gun control laws. That’s five percentage points higher than 60 percent in a May 14 survey, and the highest level of support since the August 2019 shootings in El Paso and Dayton.
Gallup, on the other hand, finds support for strict gun control has declined in recent years. Over the period since 1980, support has not exceeded 43% and has been below 30% since 2008, the organization reported recently. The latest reading found 19% favoring such a ban in October, down six points from 2020 and the all-time lowest on record.
In October 2021, the last time Gallup measured the issue, Americans’ support for stricter gun control fell five percentage points from October 2020 to 52%, the lowest since 2014.
What happens next? Probably not much. Congress is in recess – “state work period,” we’re supposed to call it – until Sept. 6, by which time the fervor currently surrounding the topic may well have faded. Then again, it could be a long hot summer of mass slayings, which might put enough pressure on Congress to result in at least token legislation.
Additional lawsuits are also expected to continue chipping away at the gun industry’s defenses.