The immunity from civil lawsuits gifted to the gun industry—which is the only industry to possess such an immunity—was a response to legal action brought against handgun manufacturers by more than forty cities and counties, and one state, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The effort focused on the argument that the gun manufacturers’ marketing and distribution practices made it easy for youths and criminals to obtain weapons.

The manufacturers were especially vulnerable to this claim because of information they received from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) regarding guns regularly used in crimes.

“Each ATF trace places the manufacturer on notice both that one of its guns was used in a crime and which distribution channel, usually a distributor, led to a criminal use. There were about 200,000 traces a year. Since it turned out that more than half of the guns used in crimes were sold by less than 1 percent of the dealers, this information could have been used to limit or eliminate the supply of handguns to crime-prone distribution channels,” writes David Kairys in an opinion piece for

“The primary city lawsuit claim was based on long-established law: The manufacturers’ marketing and distribution practices created or contributed to a public nuisance, defined for hundreds of years as an unreasonable interference with public health or safety. Since the claim is solely focused on the marketing and distribution conduct of handgun manufacturers, it did not limit individual rights to buy or possess handguns. It steered clear of the Second Amendment.”

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