75% of Stories Ignore Law That Might Derail Newtown Gun Suit

Networks overlook 2005 law that limits lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

A class action suit filed by families of Sandy Hook shooting victims could “go nowhere” because of a 2005 law protecting gun makers, but that crucial point was ignored in most network stories about the lawsuit.

A lawyer representing the families of ten victims of the horrible school shooting that took place in Newtown, Conn., two years ago announced a lawsuit on Dec. 15 against Bushmaster. Bushmaster was the company that produced a gun Adam Lanza used in the shooting.

However, Eugene Volokh, a professor at UCLA School of Law and author of The Washington Post blog The Volokh Conspiracy, said on Dec. 16 that “the claim is likely to go nowhere, because of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.”

The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was approved by George W. Bush in 2005, and generally protects gun makers from liability when a weapon they produced is used in a crime.

In three out of four stories or news briefs (75 percent) about the lawsuit on Dec. 15, the broadcast news networks ignored the existence of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. NBC did not report on the lawsuit at all and only one network story on CBS “Evening News” mentioned the law. The broadcast network morning and evening news show did not mention the pending lawsuit on Dec. 14, the two-year anniversary of the shooting, or Dec. 16.

The law included “carefully tailored protections for legitimate suits,” according to the National Rifle Association (NRA). But three of the network’s stories failed to scrutinize the current lawsuit to see if it would be a “legitimate” case.

During “World News” Dec. 15, anchor David Muir said that the families claimed in the lawsuit that “the powerful weapon should not have been sold for civilian use because of its firepower.” Muir did not discuss whether this claim had legal merits under the 2005 law.

In contrast, CBS correspondent Don Dahler specifically mentioned the law during his “Evening News” report. In order to win damages, the families’ lawyer, Josh Koskoff, would have to “prove Bushmaster sold the weapon with full knowledge it would be used to cause injury,” Dahler said.

Dahler also pushed back against Koskoff multiple times, saying that Bushmaster had sold a “legal, constitutionally protected product.”

Later in his report, Dahler mentioned that Bushmaster was involved in two similar cases, but did not point out that these cases took place before Bush signed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. He said Bushmaster had “won one” case in 2002 and “lost one” case in 2004, though both predated the 2005 law.

In contrast to the majority of network reports, Judy Woodruff, co-anchor and managing editor of the PBS’s “NewsHour,” at least discussed the lawsuit as well as the 2005 law with Wall Street Journal reporter Joseph de Avila during its Dec. 15 broadcast. De Avila explained the law in detail and what it would take for families to win the case.