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Will Congress Repeal the Law Barring Suits against Gun Sellers?

December 19th, 2012 No comments

In this Slate article, posted earlier this evening, I argue that the 2005 law that banned most suits against gun sellers was a terrible capitulation to the NRA, larding gun manufacturers and dealers with a broad immunity against suit that no other industry enjoys.

My colleague and friend Jean Eggen and I had been critically discussing and evaluating these suits for years, finding some (not all) of them had merit, and trying to construct legal arguments that should prevail. We gave up, I have to admit, after this vile law was passed. Now we have some reason to hope it might be repealed.

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Projecting A Cyber Snowball from my Laptop

February 25th, 2010 1 comment
A useful spell in the tub.

A useful spell in the tub.

Just a few short minutes ago, as the snow began to really pile up and the wind to howl, I hit “send” on the manuscript my seven co-authors and I have been working on for what seems like a decade. (In fact, the project began with a symposium almost two years ago; we signed with Cambridge almost a year ago; and the chapters began coming in by this Fall). I’m the editor of the volume, with all of the great and challenging tasks that position commands. So what is this book, and when will you be able to find it at a bookstore near you? Thanks for asking.

The book takes some of the most red-hot, and polarized issues on the political landscape and puts them through a public health, population-based wringer. The topics are: reproductive (abortion) rights; end of life matters; marriage equality (my chapter); the persistent connection between racism and health disparities; gun violence; domestic violence; and tort law and reform. How might these questions and issues be illuminated by looking at them from a perspective that didn’t focus so much on rights and morality, but on the health and welfare of the population? Through some cosmic stroke of good fortune, I managed to convince some of the very brightest and most thoughtful legal and public health scholars to participate, and editing the book was a special privilege (albeit an exhausting and occasionally frustrating one, as when documents wouldn’t do what they were requested, then commanded, to do. I hate Word but that’s another issue entirely.)

I’m guessing at this point that the book will be out later this year, but it’s a bit early to say for sure. But now I can say with confidence that it’s going to happen. (Now where did I put that Grand Marnier?)

I’ll be shamelessly flogging the book in the months to come. What is its title, you might wonder? Well, that’s the one thing I’m not crazy about — it has a tentative title that can still be changed. I’ve been wracking my brain, but for some reason the perfect title yet eludes me (and all of us). Any ideas, readers? Please? A valuable prize to be named later awaits whoever can bring me to my feet in an Archimedes-inspired exclamation. (Archimedes might never have actually yelled “Eureka!” — but I will.)

The NRA, Again

July 29th, 2009 No comments

Wondering why Republicans have increasingly come out against Sotomayor during the past few days, despite the possible effect their opposition could have on Latino voters’ impressions of them? Wonder no more:

The decision on how to vote on her confirmation was made more difficult in recent days for some Republicans and Democrats from conservative-leaning battleground states after the National Rifle Association, which has a loyal and politically active base of members, announced that a vote to confirm Sotomayor would count against senators in the group’s annual candidate ratings. The NRA calls Sotomayor “hostile” to the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Since the NRA’s threat, no Republican or conservative Democrat has come out publicly to support Sotomayor.

Concerns about race and perception, however powerful and exploited by both sides, all the time, are no match for the NRA.

Despair Over Guns

June 22nd, 2009 1 comment

Consistent majorities of Americans favor sensible gun-control laws. Of course, there’s disagreement as to what counts as “sensible,” but it hardly matters. No gun control of any kind seems to be possible as long as the NRA maintains its inexplicable death grip over federal law-makers.

I’ve sort of given up on the issue. A few years ago, my colleague and friend Jean Eggen and I wrote a series of articles (look for “gun” in title of articles appearing here) arguing that tort and public health law should be used to fill some of the holes that Congress had created. Since then, though, matters have only gotten worse. The nadir was reached in 2005, with the enactment of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which not only removed most theories of liability that might otherwise have prevailed in court, but also dismissed any and all pending suits, if otherwise prohibited by this new law. A shameful bipartisan majority in both chambers handed the gun lobby its greatest victory, and the outcry, except from organizations like the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, was muted. Why bother?

Of course, none of this means that the problem of gun violence has gone away — just that gun control, as least at the federal level, is off the table. Name the outrage, and the gun lobby has an excuse. The ease of obtaining guns in the U.S. is fueling the drug wars in Mexico, and — I just learned — gang wars in Jamaica? The former is blamed on poor border control; I’m sure a similar response to the latter will be forthcoming. Of course, home-grown massacres elicit a collective shuddering, but no real mention of substantial restrictions on gun ownership.

Cities alone seem to understand the need for more legislative control, likely because they face the consequences of violence more routinely. Yet their efforts to do something — anything — are often rebuffed by courts that say, sometimes with legal justification — that regulation of guns is a state, and not a city matter. Pennsylvania is a good case study here. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh need better gun control laws, but the state, dominated by the rural middle, whose hunters and representatives are NRA guys, will have none of it.

Thus, Philly’s effort to stop straw purchases — where someone buys a gun for another not legally entitled to own one, like a felon or a minor — were struck down last week by an appellate court because of state supreme court precedent holding that only the state can regulate guns. (The law also would have limited gun buys to one per month, a number obviously too low to live with.) Now Pittsburgh’s anti-gun trafficking law is being challenged by the NRA, too; the Brady Center is defending the city’s right to pass this needed bill.

At this point, it seems that only a searing epidemic of gun violence beyond any we’ve seen or the rise of a lobbying group equal in money and power to the NRA can begin to bring us towards more sensible gun control; the kind that police departments all over the country routinely call for.