- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002


House Republicans argued yesterday for blocking cities and counties from filing more lawsuits against gun manufacturers, saying anti-gun activists were using nuisance lawsuits to "bleed" gun makers to death.

"They are only suing because they happen to dislike a product that a company produces and markets legally," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on trade and consumer protection. "This is absurd as suing a car manufacturer for drunk-driving accidents, or suing a fast-food company because its burgers have too many calories."

But some House Democrats who oppose the bill say the gun industry doesn't deserve special legal protection from lawsuits while the medical industry and other high-profile industries still have to fight off legal attacks.

"I have a problem with the notion that the gun industry is somehow better than other industries that must stand by all their products, or better than medical doctors who provide health care and work under the pressure of malpractice suits," said Rep. Edolphus Towns, New York Democrat.

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

The manufacturers say they cannot be held responsible for the crimes of gun users and that no court has agreed with the local governments' assertions.

Under the bill, local governments would be banned from bringing lawsuits against gun makers. Twenty-six states have passed legislation banning their cities and counties from filing similar lawsuits, supporters say.

Gun advocates say the lawsuits could sink the entire industry from just the cost of defending against them. H. Sterling Burnett of the National Center for Policy Analysis says the industry makes only about $200 million in profit. "One large judgment, such as the $400 million sought in the city of Chicago's lawsuit, could bankrupt the entire industry," he said.

Even the cost of winning lawsuits is placing gun makers in financial difficulty, say advocates, who put that figure at about $50 million. "The tyranny of legal costs can and has driven firearm manufacturers into bankruptcy," said Jeff Reh, attorney for Beretta U.S.A. Corp.

The bill's opponents say lawsuits are the only way to try to force changes in the gun industry. "Surely this committee would not deny access to the courts and the possibility of redress for those shot with guns made, distributed and sold by the companies which have consistently sold guns into the criminal market," said lawyer Elisa Barnes, who has represented victims and families in lawsuits against the gun industry.

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