Buying a Gun While Clutching a Syringe

Buying a Gun While Clutching a Syringe

David Frum has this to say:

A convicted felon clutching a syringe and ranting about his dishonorable discharge can enter a gun dealer's premises and — so long as his name does not appear in a database — the seller remains legally immune no matter how much objective warning he had that his customer was a prohibited possessor. Under the 2005 federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and similar state laws, vendors can generally be held liable for a sale only if they can be shown to have had affirmative knowledge that the gun buyer intended to use the weapon to commit a crime.

One of these days, Frum will actually read the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Probably not any day soon, though, seeing as I pointed out to him he had a different part of the law wrong two years ago.

The idea behind the law is pretty simple: If gun manufacturers and sellers do their business responsibly, and yet a gun ends up being used in a crime, the manufacturers and sellers shouldn't be held liable. Of course, because manufacturers and sellers sometimes aren't responsible — they make defective products, they sell to people they shouldn't — the law lays out a series of exceptions.

One exception kicks in for "an action in which a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product knowingly violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product, and the violation was a proximate cause of the harm for which relief is sought." It is illegal for any person — a dealer or anyone else — "to sell ... any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe [emphasis added] that such person ... is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance ... [or] has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions." And beyond the liability, breaking this law can get you ten years.

Another exception is for lawsuits alleging "negligent entrustment," defined in the law as "the supplying of a qualified product by a seller for use by another person when the seller knows, or reasonably should know, the person to whom the product is supplied is likely to, and does, use the product in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical injury to the person or others." That would be another avenue for a lawsuit. (It's the same provision the families of some Sandy Hook victims are using to sue Bushmaster, though their case is much weaker.)

So, no, a dealer is not immune from liability (or imprisonment) if he sells a gun to someone who's holding a syringe and ranting about his dishonorable discharge.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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