- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

A Senate bill to protect gun manufacturers and dealers from civil-liability claims may be amended to include an extension of the assault-weapons ban and to close the gun-show loophole.

At least two Democrats have said they will vote against the bill no matter how it looks tomorrow when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said the full measure will be voted on.

“I will vote against it. It’s a bad bill,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democratic, said in an interview Thursday. “Even with the assault-weapons ban and the loophole amendments, it’s a special-interest giveaway,” she said.

A federal ban on certain types of semiautomatic weapons, enacted in 1994, is set to expire Sept. 13 unless it is renewed by Congress and signed by President Bush.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, and Charles E. Schumer of New York have taken the lead in forming a coalition of Democrats and Republicans to attach the assault-weapons ban extension on the gun- liability bill.

Mrs. Boxer is the only Democratic senator to declare outright opposition to the bill to protect gun makers against liability lawsuits. But Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, said Friday he agreed with Mrs. Boxer’s characterization of the measure as a sop to special interests.

“She is the only other Democrat I’ve heard say that besides myself. This is a bad bill,” Mr. Dodd said. “In all my 24 years up here, I have never seen a piece of legislation on the floor for a week, that is totally designed to serve the special interest.”

That special interest operates from Mr. Dodd’s home state: The nation’s top gun manufacturer, Smith & Wesson, is based in Norwich, Conn.

Mr. Dodd said he had not considered whether amending the measure might cause some Republicans to oppose it. “I don’t know about Republicans voting against it [to block the assault-weapons ban], but it could be. I hadn’t thought about that,” he said.

Senate Republicans have been looking to shield the firearms industry from lawsuits since 1999, when Smith & Wesson was forced to change its marketing practices under the threat of death by litigation from several states and the Clinton administration.

As a part of the deal, Smith & Wesson — whose powerful .44 Magnum revolver was made famous by Clint Eastwood in the “Dirty Harry” movies — introduced mandatory child-safety locks, ensured background checks both at retail stores and gun shows, and began cataloging ballistic fingerprints of its guns.

The deal sent shock waves through the gun industry and infuriated gun-rights advocates like the National Rifle Association.

The current liability bill has already been amended to include a federal law mandating that child-safety locks be sold with all handguns and to create national standards for gun locks under the aegis of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A bipartisan coalition of Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Mike DeWine of Ohio and Democratic Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Jack Reed of Rhode Island will offer an amendment today that would close the gun-show loophole.

That loophole was created by the 1993 Brady Bill, which made it mandatory for licensed dealers to perform background checks on gun purchasers. But the law did not apply to sales by private citizens, including collectors who frequently sell firearms at weekend gun shows.

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