AILSA CHANG, HOST:
There's a new coalition working against gun violence - a group of high-powered corporate law firms. After the Orlando nightclub shooting, a number of prominent attorneys banded together to collaborate - at no cost - with gun control advocates. Their goal is to attack gun issues through the courts and through state regulation. Michael Schissel heads up gun safety litigation at Arnold & Porter. The firm's a member of the coalition. And he says that by banding together, corporate attorneys are better able to serve gun control groups.
MICHAEL SCHISSEL: What they really need is our collective talent and our collective manpower. Everybody knows how well-financed and aggressive the gun lobby is. And I think it's going to require the brute force of the major law firms in this country, and I can give you two examples. For example, there is a law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act called PLCAA - some people call it PLCAA - which effectively immunizes sellers of firearms from liability except in a few cases. There's no other law - no other law at all - that shields consumer products from safety regulation. And here we're talking about a product that can kill. There's another law, for example, that prevents the public from accessing data - gun data - that should be available under the Freedom of Information Act. And our view is that these laws are really quite novel in the history of this country. And therefore it's going to take some novel and aggressive thinking on the behalf - on behalf of this collective group of law firms and advocacy groups to do something about those laws, to challenge those laws, you know, really to put a full-court press on the gun lobby.
CHANG: If I could just address PLCAA - this is the federal law which protects gun manufacturers and dealers from liability when people use their guns in crimes. Make the argument for me. Why should manufacturers be held accountable for the actions of the individuals who buy their products?
SCHISSEL: Well, it's not just manufacturers, and that's really the important thing. In fact, my firm has been involved more on the retail level.
CHANG: OK, fine, retailers.
SCHISSEL: Yeah, it immunizes sellers. So, for example, there are state laws that literally immunize a gun seller of any liability even if that gun seller knows he's selling a gun to a criminal.
CHANG: Can you describe other types of cases you're working on?
SCHISSEL: For example, one of them is property rights. As you know, some states now have very broad legal rights to carry guns on private property, such as bars and restaurants and schools. And what those laws do is they place the onus on the property owner to tell people either you can't come in with your gun or since you have a gun, I'm going to eject you from my premises.
CHANG: But there is a fear (ph) where the state can regulate property, especially commercial property, restaurants and bars, right? Why would, in this case, being forced to comply with laws allowing people to bring guns onto their property, why would that infringe on property rights? Could you just unpack that a little more?
SCHISSEL: Well, because the onus is shifted. The onus is shifted to the private property owner to effectively enforce whatever it is the government is imposing on it. And, you know, when you - the whole concept of private property is that you should be able to enjoy your property and use your property however you want without the fear, frankly, of someone bringing a gun and putting that premises at risk.
There are some other things that are going on. One of them has to do with concealed carry cases. The NRA has now stated that one of its priorities is to push a nationwide concealed carry reciprocity federal law. It would allow gun owners licensed to carry in one state to be able to carry in any other state. And if the NRA were to be successful in passing federal legislation on this reciprocity, that means you could go get your gun in some state that has an easy threshold to get the gun and then conceal it (laughter) walk around Times Square here in New York carrying that gun. That's a frightening thought.
CHANG: Attorney Michael Schissel of the firm Arnold & Porter, thanks for speaking with us.
SCHISSEL: Thank you.
[POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: During this conversation, attorney Michael Schissel says there is “no other law” like the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which he says “effectively immunizes sellers of firearms from liability except in a few cases.” In fact, there are laws that shield some other industries – including vaccine manufacturers – from some lawsuits. But it is the case, as NPR has previous reported, that gun manufacturers “have unique protections from lawsuits that most other businesses — and particularly consumer product-makers — do not.]
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