House OKs legislation to block gun lawsuits

Thursday, April 10, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The GOP-controlled House on Wednesday passed legislation to protect the firearm industry from lawsuits that allege links between gun marketing and street violence.

House Republicans said the industry is being attacked through frivolous suits blaming gun manufacturers and dealers for violence by criminals. The suits could end the American gun industry by making companies spend millions in court, said the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis..

"Those who are filing lawsuits against the firearm industry are doing so because they want to bankrupt the industry," he said.

The legislation, which passed the House by a 285-140 vote, "would help prevent abuse of the legal system and help curb the growing problem of frivolous lawsuits in the United States," the White House said in a statement. Democrats, however, said the GOP legislation banning suits against gun makers and dealers probably was unconstitutional and was politically motivated.

"This body is considering this bill today because the National Rifle Association is holding their annual convention at the end of April and the majority leadership in this chamber is compelled to prove to the pro-gun special interests that they will do whatever it takes," said Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass.

Republicans denied they were trying to impress the NRA and accused Democrats of being against guns.

The NRA annual meeting will be in Orlando, Fla., April 24-27. The association vehemently opposes additional gun controls or regulation of the firearms industry and contributes heavily to political candidates who share that view.

The bill has not yet been considered by the GOP-controlled Senate.

The legislation would prohibit lawsuits from being brought against gun and ammunition manufacturers, distributors, dealers and importers for damages resulting from "misuse" of their product.

The bill would bar local governments from bringing cases against gun makers. Thirty-one states have passed legislation banning their cities and counties from filing similar lawsuits, supporters said.

Since 1998, at least 33 municipalities, counties and states have sued gun makers, with many alleging manufacturers allowed weapons to fall into criminals' hands because of lax distribution policies and irresponsible marketing. Many of the suits sought restitution for the costs of handgun violence and improved gun safety.

Republicans, gun manufacturers and gun advocates have argued that gun companies cannot be held responsible for the crimes of gun users.

Such suits by private individuals or groups also would be blocked by the bill, including one that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is now arguing in federal court in New York. The group contends that irresponsible marketing of handguns has "led to disproportionate numbers of injuries, deaths and other damages" among minorities.

Democrats say the gun industry does not deserve special legal protection while the medical industry and other high-profile industries still have to fight off legal attacks.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: