The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) does not give gunmakers immunity from liability for product defects. A firearms manufacturer is still on the hook and are usually very quick to act if a problem crops up.
Not too long ago, Remington recalled all of the R51 pistols it had manufactured in order to correct problems. Owners were offered replacement products or a refund of what they had paid for the gun. Not repaired guns: Brand-new guns that incorporated the changes.
The PLCAA does shield manufacturers from liability for the misuse of guns by a third party when the gun worked as it was supposed to. It was passed after certain states began to attempt to litigate gunmakers into bankruptcy over the criminal use of guns. Elliot Spitzer, then the attorney general of New York, said the state would inflict death by a thousand cuts and bury gunmakers under a mountain of lawsuits that even if they won would have proven so costly that they would have to file for bankruptcy. The PLCAA prohibited frivolous lawsuits and legal harassment.
The PLCAA doesn’t shield manufacturers, distributors or retailers from liability if there is negligence in the shipment, distribution or sale of a firearm. If a licensed dealer sells a gun to a person who fails a background check, they are not only liable for any acts committed with the gun but also for severe criminal penalties for making the sale at all. If a distributor “loses” a gun in shipment or handling, they are liable for that gun.
A lot of people, including Ms. LaFrance, don’t understand the legal requirements already placed on gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers. Which, in a perfect universe, would be a good reason for them to refrain from commenting on them.
It is predictable that Ms. LaFrance’s chosen “expert” is the founder of a company that produces an interlock system. That, in and of itself, would raise issues about credibility. After all, there is a good reason that none of the “smart gun” technologies has been deployed on a widespread basis: they aren’t infallible. RFID systems such as the Triggersmart can be hacked or defeated through a variety of means. In addition, they can’t be retrofitted to existing firearms.
Police officers would seem to have a vested interest in such technology to prevent their sidearms being seized and used against them. Of course, the system can’t interfere with the officer’s ability to rapidly deploy and fire his gun because split-seconds count. A citizen has the same requirements for a defensive gun.
No police agency has yet adopted a smart gun as a standard-issue sidearm. Not one. Why? Because none of the systems yet devised are sufficiently foolproof and reliable to be acceptable.
Yet gunmakers do offer safety devices on guns and have for a very long time. At the end of the 19th Century, Iver Johnson produced a revolver with an internal safety that prevented accidental discharges if the gun was dropped. The gun would not fire unless the trigger was deliberately pulled all the way to the rear. The company boasted that even striking the hammer with a hammer would not cause the gun to go off. In 1907, Colt incorporated a similar system in the Police Positive, a small revolver designed for use by police and those who needed to carry a handgun safely. Smith & Wesson didn’t add this feature until the middle of the Second World War, when a revolver was accidentally dropped from a fair distance on a U.S. Navy ship and discharged, killing a sailor.
From the earliest days of semiautomatic pistols there were safeties of various types. In 1929 Walther of Germany introduced the Polizei Pistole, a small pistol designed for carry by officers and others. It incorporated a rotating safety that actually locked the firing pin. This allowed the gun to be carried with a cartridge in the chamber, ready for immediate use.
Most modern handguns have automatic, internal safeties. They are designed to not fire unless the trigger is pulled all the way to the rear. Some older designs, such as those based on the M1911 .45-caliber pistol, have safety devices, but do not block the firing pin, which means the gun can be discharged if dropped from a height. (Upon impact, the free-floating firing pin can move forward with enough force to detonate the primer.)
Some handguns even have locks that immobilize the action of the gun, preventing it from being fired at all unless a person has the key to unlock it.
But real gun safety, just like the safe operation of a motor vehicle, depends on the person holding the gun or at the wheel of the car.
If we make an apples-to-apples comparison of accidental deaths, there is a huge difference between guns and cars. In 2016, 37,461 people died in motor vehicle accidents. In that same year, 495 people died because of accidental gunshot wounds
There were 38,658 firearm-related fatalities in the U.S. in 2016. Nearly 97% of those were suicides or homicides. In fact, more than 59% of those deaths were suicides. Just like the homicides, these were deliberate acts that no safety in the world could prevent. It should also be noted that nearly as many suicides were carried out by other means as were accomplished with guns.
Ms. LaFrance has an agenda and is unlikely to allow mere facts to get in the way of it. However, there’s no good reason to buy into her thesis when so much impartial information exists to refute it.