- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

After years of fending off lawsuits, firearms makers appear close to getting Congress to protect them from lawsuits seeking to bankrupt them by make them pay damages for gun crimes.

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, has 44 Republican co-sponsors for his bill to immunize gun manufacturers and distributors from lawsuits arising out of the use of guns in crimes.

Despite a threatened filibuster by some Democrats, the bill also has the support of 10 Democrats, among them Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who is up for re-election in 2004.

“It is a misuse of the civil justice system to try to punish honest, law-abiding people for illegal acts committed by others without their knowledge or involvement,” Mr. Daschle said two weeks ago.

He began promoting the lawsuit-ban after gun supporters agreed to specify that firearms manufacturers and distributors would not be protected from lawsuits involving defective products or illegal sales.

Since 1998, at least 33 municipalities, counties and states have sued gun makers, many claiming that manufacturers, through irresponsible marketing, allowed weapons to reach criminals. None of the suits have yet to result in a manufacturer or distributor paying any damages.

Thirty-three states already have laws on the books exempting gun manufacturers and distributors from such suits. The House in April passed the bill to extend the prohibition on such suits nationwide and President Bush has said he would sign it.

The bill has been blocked by the promise of a filibuster by gun-control advocates among Senate Democrats. To end a filibuster requires the votes of 60 senators, and Mr. Craig said that with 10 Democrats now on his side, he was confident that five of the six Republican senators who are not co-sponsors of the bill will supply the votes he needs to break any filibuster.

“I think I have my 60 votes to proceed when necessary,” Mr. Craig said.

Gun-control advocates say they still plan to lobby the issue heavily in the hope of changing a few minds in the Senate.

“Why does the gun industry deserve special protection?” said Dennis Henigan, legal director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Mr. Henigan is working on lawsuits filed by nine families of Washington-area sniper victims against Bulls Eye Shooter Supply of Tacoma, Wash., which said it lost the .223-caliber Bushmaster AR-15 carbine found with sniper defendants John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo.

They have sued the store and the weapon manufacturer, Bushmaster Firearms Inc. of Windham, Maine, for damages.

Gun rights groups say firearms makers shouldn’t be forced to spend millions of dollars fending off lawsuits designed only to bankrupt them for making a legal product.

“We have no problem with people going after those who knowingly violate the law,” said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association. But “in recent years, we’ve seen the gun-ban groups and the trial lawyers try to litigate this industry out of existence.”

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