With every mass shooting, the gun industry offers its sympathy, arguing that even more weapons will make things safer, and gives thanks for a two-decade-old law shielding firearms makers from legal action by the victims. The 2005 federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) has stopped in its tracks a wave of lawsuits over the reckless marketing and sale of guns, The Guardian reports. Now, victims of gun crime are following an alternative path forged by legal actions against cigarette makers, prescription opioid manufacturers and big oil in an attempt to work around the law - and the lack of political actions to hold the firearms industry accountable for the injury and death toll of its products.
Last week, Ilene Steur, who was badly injured in a mass shooting on a New York subway in April, sued Glock, the manufacturer of the semi-automatic pistol used in the attack, for breaching "public nuisance" laws. The public nuisance strategy has been used against the tobacco and oil industries for lying about the link between their products and public health. Until recently, the gun industry thought PLCCA provided a shield from similar legal actions. A lawsuit by victims' families in the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre sought to exploit an exception in PLCCA if a firearm is sold in violation of "applicable" state or federal law. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Sandy Hook families, New York enacted the law that Steur is relying on that expands public nuisance legislation to cover gun crimes. Despite the potential validity of the law, Timothy Lytton of Georgia State University said legal actions against the gun industry face challenges because of the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Second Amendment and the rights it gives to gun owners, a legal area yet to be widely tested. The point of lawsuits is not only to win in court. "The impact of litigation is not just about who wins and who loses," Lytton said, "It's about the framing, information disclosure and agenda-setting effects that the litigation process creates even if the plaintiffs lose."