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A widow's view of gun accountability

A widow's view of gun accountability

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Last October two criminals who should never have had a gun and an irresponsible gun dealer who enabled them to obtain one forever changed my life and my family's life. On that day I said goodbye to my husband, Conrad Johnson, with my usual "Be careful." My children and I had no idea that those would be our last words to him. Later that morning, while Conrad was preparing his Montgomery County (Md.) Ride-On bus for his route, he was shot and killed, the last of the Washington-area sniper victims.

I'm confident that the criminal justice system will work to punish the people who killed my husband. But the civil justice system must also be allowed to work. Those who share responsibility for my husband's death must also be held accountable.

Yet Congress is seriously considering a bill, S. 659, that would give immunity to irresponsible gun sellers, including those who enabled the snipers to acquire the means to kill. As if that weren't enough, the immunity bill is the first gun legislation Congress has considered since the Washington area was terrorized by the sniper shootings.

Guns don't fall from the sky or grow on trees. The two people charged with my husband's murder could not have legally bought this gun. They were able to get the gun only because of a wholly irresponsible gun dealer, Bull's Eye Shooter Supply in Tacoma, Wash. Bull's Eye says it did not even realize the sniper suspects' Bushmaster assault rifle was missing from its inventory until after the police arrested the suspects and traced the gun to the gun store. Only then did Bull's Eye report it as "stolen." Bull's Eye also cannot account for more than 200 other guns that mysteriously disappeared from its shelves.

Bushmaster, the manufacturer that supplied Bull's Eye, also bears some responsibility. To begin with, I don't understand why Bushmaster would sell this military-style assault rifle to the civilian public. This is not a gun for hunters or home defense. It is a gun for the military or law enforcement. Not only does Bushmaster push these military guns on the public, it even sells something it calls the "ultimate sniper grip." Bushmaster should be more responsible, and it should require its dealers, such as Bull's Eye, to act responsibly. Bushmaster now knows that Bull's Eye cannot account for more than 200 guns, and that one of those guns was used in a killing rampage. But Bushmaster continues to call Bull's Eye a "good customer."

I and families of other sniper victims have sued these gun sellers. I hope that by holding them accountable, we can cause others to behave more responsibly, and that future tragedies such as mine will be prevented. I understood when I filed the case that I was not guaranteed victory, but that's OK. All I wanted was my day in court. But if S. 659 is enacted, the courthouse door will be slammed in my face.

No other industry enjoys the protections that the gun industry is seeking. Gun sellers and manufacturers shouldn't be above the law. If any other product injured my husband and irresponsible sellers played a part, I would be able to bring a case in court. But because Conrad was shot with a gun, my lawsuit would not be allowed. Those who sell guns that are sought by criminals need to be more careful than sellers of other products, not less careful.

I call on Congress to protect my rights and the rights of other victims of gun violence. There's nothing frivolous about how bad gun dealers behave. And there's nothing frivolous about my case.

Johnson lives in Oxon Hill, Md.


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