Congress made major news this week when, for the first time, it overrode President Obama's veto, and enacted the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). Regardless of whether one thinks the override was good or bad (the Brady Center is not taking a position), what's striking is the hypocrisy of so many lawmakers. Some of our elected representatives' strong defense of victim's rights, raises the question -- why do some members of Congress think victims of terrorism should have access to the court system, but victims of gun violence should not?
JASTA authorizes United States courts to hear claims against sovereign nations in cases where a terrorist attack occurs on U.S. soil, and a victim of that attack alleges that the foreign nation knowingly supported the terrorists.
Citing security concerns, President Obama vetoed JASTA. But, with passionate appeals to fairness, most of Congress proclaimed that justice demanded giving victims their day in court. Senator Chuck Grassley, for example, advocated for JASTA saying, "All they want is the opportunity to present their case in a court of law. And that's what this legislation would give them." And, in a video urging Congress to override President Obama's veto, Senator John Cornyn said, "We should use every means available to prevent the funding of terrorism, and the victims of terrorism in our country should be able to seek justice." From Senator Ted Cruz: "I applaud my colleagues for joining together and with the American people to stand against President Obama's attempt to deprive terror victims from receiving full recourse under the law."
But these legislators' words are hypocritical. Many of the same politicians, who profess a deep belief in the right of Americans to their day in court, apparently believe that victims of gun violence do not deserve that right. In 2005, Congress enacted the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). And PLCAA is JASTA's polar opposite. Where JASTA removes immunity in order to give victims access to the courts, PLCAA has been held to grant immunity to the gun industry and block victims from accessing U.S. courts in many cases. PLCAA even makes it more difficult for victims of gun related terrorism to have their day in court. According to some PLCAA supporters, and some courts, a gun dealer who recklessly arms terrorists with AK-47s -- and profits from terrorists – should have unique immunity from negligence liability. Many of the same members of Congress who voted for JASTA on the basis that victims deserve their day in court, voted for – and still support – PLCAA.
So, appeals to justice aside, it seems that a more accurate description of Cornyn's views would be, "The victims of terrorism in our country should be able to seek justice unless the terrorist used a gun."
*This article neither endorses nor denounces the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act or President Obama's Veto. The Brady Center takes no position on JASTA.