WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)–No effort to change or strengthen gun control laws will bring back Nafis, the seven-year-old son of Tennille Johnson, a young mother from Philadelphia. Her son was killed when a gun found on a city street and held by another child misfired. A .44 caliber revolver, Rossi model 720, launched the fatal bullet that struck the young boy’s skull.
Ms. Jefferson has filed lawsuits against the gun manufacturer, gun dealer and an illegal gun trafficker accused of putting the gun on the street where her son was killed. However, if a hotly contested bill in Congress becomes law, gun manufacturers and dealers will be exempt from such liability. The change would render dozens of lawsuits by victims of gun violence null and void, according to opponents of the legislation.
“Laws need to focus on making guns safer instead of laws to protect the gun dealers and manufacturers,” Ms. Jefferson told The Final Call. Depositions in her case are currently underway.
The NAACP, some federal lawmakers and victims of gun violence have challenged Congress to reject “special interest” legislation that deprives gun violence victims of the right to sue.
During a Jan. 30 Capitol Hill news conference hosted by Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed (D) and sponsored by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, congressmen were urged to reject the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” House bill 2037 and Senate bill 2268. The politically powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) supports the bills.
Gun violence is the number one killer of Blacks ages 15-24. Just 13 percent of the U.S. population. Blacks account for more than 51 percent of all gun homicides.
“There has to be some recourse for those that suffer from the ravages of gun violence. What they are doing now is taking away another recourse, which victims of gun violence have to use,” said NAACP Washington Bureau director Hilary Shelton. The NAACP has sued several firearms manufacturers in efforts to reduce the number of guns on U.S. streets.
The proposed law would prohibit lawsuits against pawnshop owner, gun dealer and, or manufacturer negligence, Mr. Shelton explained. Nearly 30,000 Americans are killed by gun violence annually, he said, and the industry refuses “to take simple steps to regulate, supervise, or exercise reasonable control over the marketing, distribution and sale of its handguns.”
“The gun lobby wants to shut the courthouse door to victims of gun violence. Shame on any legislator who sponsors this dangerous special interest legislation,” said Sarah Brady, chair of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Across the country, victims’ families have introduced civil suits seeking to hold reckless and negligent gun dealers and gun makers accountable, the gun control groups said. If the bill passes, these already-filed suits would be dismissed, Brady Campaign lawyers said.
Last fall, the House was set to vote on the bill. Bad publicity about assault rifles and handguns resulting from the D.C.-area sniper attacks compelled House leaders to cancel the vote. On the Senate side last year, the gun lobby enlisted 46 co-sponsors but no action was taken on the legislation. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Sen. Zell Miller (R-Ga.) are the bill’s sponsors.
“This bill addresses the growing problem of junk lawsuits filed with the intention of driving the firearms industry out of business by attempting to hold firearms manufacturers and dealers liable for the criminal acts of third parties beyond their control,” said Rep. Stearns. “Twenty-eight states, including Florida, have passed legislation prohibiting these types of lawsuits–H.R. 2037 mirrors at the national level what these states have done. These lawsuits have no legal merit, they merely are attempts to bypass the legislative process in order to impose gun control through the courts,” he said.
Chicagoan Steve Young opposes the proposed bills. He said a gun used against his 19-year-old son was traced to gun distributor Jennings Firearms, which shipped the weapon to distributor Riley’s Inc. According to the Brady Campaign, both Jennings and Riley’s are among a small group of initial gun dealers whose handguns are used in many crimes in Chicago.
“Gun manufacturers are flooding the inner cities and in cases like Chicago, where you can only sell in suburban areas, those markets are being flooded way over capacity. The ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) local and federal officers are telling us that the guns being sold to these distributors and gun dealers are disproportionately showing up in crime and in the Black community, and ‘we can’t do anything about it,’ they say,” Khalid Pitts, of the D.C.-based Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, told The Final Call.
Families of D.C.-area sniper victims also have a lawsuit pending that would be barred by the proposed bill, said gun control advocates. Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply in Tacoma, Wash., which cannot account for the Bushmaster assault rifle used in the 2002 D.C.-Maryland and Virginia shootings, and over 230 other guns from its inventory, would be immunized from civil liability, the groups said. Bushmaster Firearms would be immunized, despite negligently selling a high-firepower assault rifle designed for combat use to Bull’s Eye, the groups insist. Government audits of Bull’s Eye revealed hundreds of missing guns, yet Bushmaster recently referred to the dealer as “a good customer,” according to the Brady Campaign.
“No other industry enjoys the legal protection being proposed for the gun industry. This is the last industry that should get special protection from legal accountability,” said Joshua Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.