The 2005 law also deprived New York and other states of their right to protect, or at least compensate, their citizenry by imposing civil liability on those manufacturers and dealers who failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the abuse and illegal trafficking of their weapons.
While the nation continues to debate the issue of background checks - a cause to which Gabrielle Giffords, the former representative from Arizona who was grievously wounded in a mass shooting in 2011, has dedicated herself - Congress should act decisively to restore responsibility and end this unique legal protection for the gun industry. Until it does so, there will be no incentive for the industry to act reasonably.
Decades ago, the tobacco industry hired doctors to plug the health benefits of cigarettes, and the auto industry claimed that seat belts were an unnecessary extravagance. The results were an epidemic of deaths, followed by civil lawsuits, followed by industry reform.
Today, smoking is down and cars are safer. In part, we have the market to thank. When these industries acted irresponsibly, basic principles of civil liability placed the costs of illness and accident where they belonged. Once their bottom line was affected, even the most myopic executives had to take notice.
I believe that with rights come responsibilities. By immunizing the gun industry from basic principles of legal liability, Congress kept the rights and repealed the responsibilities.
The Second Amendment right to bear arms is an important right. But the contours of that right must not extend to those who look away as their guns enter the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable. Congress should immediately repeal the 2005 gun immunity law, and let free-market incentives encourage responsible behavior by the gun industry.
Robert M. Morgenthau wrote this piece for the New York Times
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