Editorials

A gun exception that just proves the rule

Former Milwaukee police Officers Graham Kunisch, right, and Bryan Norberg were seriously wounded by a gun purchased in a negligent sale at a Wisconsin gun store.
Former Milwaukee police Officers Graham Kunisch, right, and Bryan Norberg were seriously wounded by a gun purchased in a negligent sale at a Wisconsin gun store. The Associated Press

An astounding thing happened this 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 Tuesday that a 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.

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 – pay attention, progressives – 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 this 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 Thursday by 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.

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