- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Democratic senators said yesterday they will attempt a filibuster to stop passage of a bill to prohibit lawsuits against gun manufacturers and distributors.

“We are here to send a clear message to the gun lobby: You don’t own the United States Senate,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat. “The gun-immunity bill that is being bullied through Congress is one of the most outrageous pieces of legislation I have every seen. It is a total sellout to a special-interest lobby.”

At a press conference yesterday, Democrats said that under the legislation, the victims of the Washington-area sniper shootings would be forbidden to sue the gun shop that is accused of illegally selling a hunting rifle to Lee Boyd Malvo, one of two suspects in the case. Victims who have been accidentally injured by faulty products would also have no legal recourse, they said.

Will Hart, spokesman for the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, said such characterizations are untrue.

“This bill does not keep people from suing when gun laws have been broken or there have been manufacturing defects,” said Mr. Hart. “The antigun lobby is continually coming up with things to go against our Second Amendment rights and to bring in trial lawyers and litigation against law-abiding citizens. We think that’s outrageous, and that’s what this bill is intended to stop.”

The bill has 51 cosponsors so far, including Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. Mr. Hart said a few other senators have privately expressed support for the bill, and they will be asked to include themselves as cosponsors, too. Floor action is not expected until at least next month.

Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, said he will try to muster the 41 votes he needs to block the legislation with a filibuster, but admitted it’s a difficult task.

“We don’t have 41 yet, but they don’t have 60 yet, either,” Mr. Reed said. “My colleagues and I will do all we can to stop this shameful bill from becoming law.”

In the House, more than two-thirds of members, including 63 Democrats, have already voted to pass a bill that would forbid lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers who followed the law if their products were later used in a crime.

Andrew Arulanandam, director of public affairs for the National Rifle Association, likened suits against law-abiding gun manufacturers to suing car companies if one of their vehicles is used in a crime.

“This law is meant to protect manufacturers of a lawful product from being held responsible for the unlawful acts of criminals,” Mr. Arulanandam said. “This is common-sense legislation. If the practice of holding these manufacturers responsible is allowed to continue, there won’t be any more manufacturing jobs in America. That’s why the Manufacturers Association of America supports this legislation.”

Meanwhile yesterday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said he doesn’t expect Congress to expand, or even reauthorize, the 1994 legislation banning firearms commonly called assault weapons when the ban is due for renewal next year.

“It’s very simple: The votes to expand it aren’t in the House,” Mr. DeLay said. “The votes in the House are not there to reauthorize it.”

President Bush campaigned in 2000 as a supporter of the ban, and recently said he supports reauthorizing it next year.

Some critics have suggested Mr. Bush made his statement only because he knew the ban wouldn’t have majority support in Congress. Mr. DeLay said he has not spoken to the president about that.

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