Senate Passes Landmark Legislation!

Common-sense legal reform will stop "junk" lawsuits against firearms industry

NEWTOWN, Conn.--Congress today took a step toward restoring fairness and integrity to the nation's judicial system as the Senate passed a landmark bill to block lawsuits that seek to hold firearms manufacturers liable for the criminal misuse of their lawfully sold products.

The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (S. 397) will prevent wrongful civil liability lawsuits against law-abiding companies and end years of abuse of America's legal system by industry opponents.

The bill was passed by a bi-partisan vote of 65-31. A House of Representatives version (HR 800) has 257 co-sponsors and is expected to quickly pass. President Bush, who has promoted legal reform in order to protect America's economy, has said he would sign the bill if it reached his desk.

Since 1998 more than 30 municipal lawsuits have been filed against the makers and sellers of firearms by anti-gun organizations and anti-gun politicians. The misguided effort attempted to blame firearm companies for the illegal actions of criminals--the equivalent of attempting to hold a car manufacturer liable when a criminal uses an automobile in a crime. These illegitimate suits have cost the firearms industry hundreds of millions of dollars in legal defense fees and threatened to bankrupt companies.

"This legislation restores and reaffirms the common-sense notion that no manufacturer should be held liable for the misuse of its products. We are pleased that the Senate has passed this important reform measure. No industry should be threatened by 'junk' lawsuits' based not on established legal principles but driven by extreme political agendas," said Doug Painter, president of the National

Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association representing firearms and ammunition manufacturers.

The bill provides protection for manufacturers, distributors, retailers and importers of all legally sold firearms and ammunition.

"These lawsuits put thousands of jobs at risk and attempted to drive an entire industry out of business. Such abuse of our judicial system invited this historic legal reform," said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF's senior vice president and general counsel.

Opponents of the bill attempted to scare the public into thinking it would no longer have the right to file civil liability actions, but the bill's language is very clear on the subject, allowing legitimate lawsuits to be filed against companies that sell defective products or against firearms dealers who break the law. Even though 30 states have passed similar legislation preventing such lawsuits, the federal legislation will provide the full protection sought by the firearms industry and nullify pending lawsuits and prevent future illegitimate lawsuits from being filed.

Among those cases nullified are New York City's suit and Washington, D.C.'s case, the latter filed under the onerous District of Columbia's Assault Weapon Manufacturing Strict Liability Act that, incredibly, assigns automatic and absolute liability to a manufacturer whose firearm is used in a crime in the District.

As pointed out by many elected officials, the lawsuits represented a serious threat to the industry that provides America's military with small arms and ammunition.

"While many of these suits have been rejected in court, just one verdict for the plaintiffs could bankrupt our small industry and destroy those companies that arm our law enforcement and our military for defense against terrorism at home and overseas," said Keane.

Realizing that any industry, not just the firearms industry, could be the target of such harassing lawsuits, America's business community weighed in strongly for the bill, with letters of support coming from the National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Businesses, National Association of Wholesalers-Distributors, National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers, United Mine Workers of America and other business groups and unions.

The Department of Defense also encouraged passage of the bill because of national security concerns. Several amendments put forth by opponents that were intended to "gut" the bill were defeated.

Approved amendments included one introduced by Senator Herbert Kohl (D-Wisconsin) that requires firearms dealers provide a "secure gun storage or safety device" with every handgun transferred to a customer. This is already a common practice, as nearly all new firearms are shipped from the factory with a safety device, so the new measure would apply mainly to used handguns.

Two amendments sponsored by Senators Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) were approved. One allows children to bring lawsuits if they meet certain exceptions in the legislation. The other provides for harsher penalties for criminals who use armor-piercing ammunition against police officers. Another amendment clarifies that the bill does not hinder the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from enforcing firearms laws.

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