Nebraskans Against Gun Violence believes in punching up and not kicking down—that is, dismantling the power of a predatory industry at the top and empowering the peaceable people below. To this end we offer three policy priorities.
Demand accountability and reparations from the corporations and lobbyists that profit from gun proliferation.
Legislative change: Repeal the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005.
Gun and ammunition manufacturers enjoy a barely-regulated firearm market in the United States. They face few obstacles in what kinds of firearms and ammunition they can produce and sell or in what quantities—bump stocks, semiautomatic rifles, armor piercing bullets, and high-capacity magazines are all legal on the private market and can be bought and sold in most places in limitless quantities.
In large part this is due to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which affords firearm makers and sellers unparalleled protection from the kind of lawsuits that help keep other dangerous industries in check. Gun makers can be sued if their product does not function, but they can’t be sued if their product routinely takes lives. So if your gun fails to fire you can sue the gun seller, but if yet another toddler pulls a too-easy trigger, we’re out of luck.
In the fourteen years since PLCAA passed, over 400,000 Americans have died by gun. In that time, exactly one negligence case resulted in a jury settlement against a gun seller—a store that knowingly allowed a straw purchase to a man who shot police. The repeal of PLCAA will at least allow for the possibility of tort law making this industry accountable for its damages just as it does for automobiles and tobacco. We need to demand our candidates for federal office support the repeal of PLCAA.
Make so-called “responsible gun ownership” actually responsible.
Legislative action: Pass local and state firearm safe storage laws.
Many states, including Nebraska, have no laws requiring responsible storage of firearms. If a child gets hold of a gun and kills himself or someone else, it is often up to prosecutorial discretion whether to pursue charges under broader laws such as child endangerment. Often prosecutors lack the will to press charges, don’t believe a jury will see the law as applying to the situation, or seem to pursue such charges disproportionately against people of color.
Safe storage laws that require gun owners to lock guns away from minors and other prohibited persons can be powerful instruments for enforcing responsibility. Locked guns are hard to steal, so safe storage laws prevent theft. Locked guns cannot be accessed by curious or distraught children, so safe storage laws reduce accidental shootings, suicides, and school shootings. Most school shooters are students and they don’t have to look far to find a weapon. The gunmen at Parkland and Santa Fe got their guns from home, as did the one at Millard South. Strong safe storage laws can prevent many of these tragedies. We need to push for local safe storage ordinances and insist our candidates for state legislature support a strong safe storage law.
Empower the public to protect their communities.
Legislative action: Maintain or regain the right to pass local gun ordinances.
A long-held conservative principle of governing is home rule: leave those things to local communities that can be left to local communities. But this principle has been tossed aside in recent decades for the enrichment of the gun industry.
Local anti-smoking ordinances were key to changing the culture with smoking—as different cities regulated smoking, people came to like it, and change spread. Seeing the fate of tobacco, the firearm industry quietly got state legislatures across the country to pass firearm preemption laws—that is, laws that preempt the rights of cities to pass gun ordinances. Now 43 states have passed laws that forbid municipal governments from passing gun ordinances. Some even include provisions that allow the NRA to sue any city with ordinances on the books, or inflict punitive fines on individual city leaders who dare to try to address their community’s gun death problem.
The good news is that six blue states with low gun death rates and good old Nebraska still allow their cities to practice local democracy. States that allow cities to prevent gun violence unsurprisingly have lower gun death rates, and we at NAGV have fought hard and successfully for several years to fend off repeated attempts by the NRA to wipe out our state’s local gun laws. If you live in Nebraska, join us in protecting both our communities from gun violence and our local democratic control. And if you live outside the state, organize to maintain or regain your community’s rights to democratically govern and save lives.
Gun violence is a problem entrenched in our culture and no single policy change will wipe it out, but this strategy will go a long way toward weakening the industry, enforcing responsibility, and empowering change.