Orlando Shooting Raises Questions about Gun Control Laws

Author: yrlaw/Mon, Aug 29, 2016/Categories: Manufacturer Liability

The massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida was the deadliest mass shooting in recent United States history. In the early morning hours of June 12th, a 29-year-old gunman named Omar Mir Seddique Mateen opened fire within the club, killing 49 people and injuring 53. The tragedy is fostering further discussion about gun control laws, a topic that is already hotly debated.

National Public Radio (NPR) gives a timeline of the events that happened on June 12th, recounting the horrors victims faced. Authorities first gained knowledge of a shooter at 2:02 a.m., when an off-duty police officer working there “engaged in a gun battle” with him, said Orlando Police Chief John Mina. More officers arrived within two minutes and entered the nightclub to pursue the attacker. Pulse alerted its patrons by updating its Facebook page, posting the warning “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”

While many were able to escape, others could not. A number of people remained trapped inside the club for three hours after the shooting broke out; some hiding in bathroom stalls while texting loved ones for help, others playing dead on the dance floor. One group of victims was held hostage, holed up in one of the bathrooms with the shooter. According to the FBI, Mateen made several calls to 911 during the shooting. At around 5 a.m., a SWAT team used explosives to breach the bathroom walls. After the wall broke, hostages emerged and so did Mateen. They exchanged fire and, at 5:15 a.m., police reported that the shooter was down. At around noon on June 12, Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Orange County.

The horrific shooting fuels questions about gun control laws, whether or not they are adequate and whether current laws should remain in place. NPR reports that four gun control measures were proposed in light of the shooting, and all four were rejected by the Senate.

Gun control advocates, including Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, are looking to repeal a law that protects gun manufacturers against liability. Under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) of 2005, gun manufacturers and dealers are not liable when their products are used for crime (they are however, liable if the products are defective). A number of cities sued the gun industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s, often alleging the manufacturers engaged in “negligent marketing” or created a “public nuisance”, according to NPR. Some argued, for instance, that if a store sells many guns used in crimes, the manufacturer should stop supplying that store.

In pushing for the law, NRA argued that it lacked the “deep pockets” necessary to handle the litigation. While some gun-rights advocates argue that suing a gun maker for crimes is analogous to suing a car company for driving drunk, others say the issue is more complex. Fordham University law professor Saul Cornell told NPR, “It’s more like — are you a bartender and do you keep on pouring drinks for someone?”

The merit of a case will depend on an individual basis, but PLCAA opponents say that plaintiffs should at least be given a chance in court. If the law is repealed, it could mean a slew of lawsuits for gun manufacturers.

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