The Senate likely will pass a bill this week to make gun makers and dealers immune from civil lawsuits by local governments seeking to hold the industry responsible for gun-related crimes, after a test vote yesterday showed overwhelming support for the legislation.
On Monday, the Lawful Commerce in Arms Act acquired a 60th Senate co-sponsor — Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat. It easily passed the first hurdle on passage, being brought to the floor for debate on a 66-32 vote.
Mr. Byrd’s signature gave the bill 60 co-sponsors, assuring a filibuster-proof majority and passage on the floor, said Dan Whiting, spokesman for Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and the bill’s sponsor.
Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, said his party expects to use the same tactic that defeated the bill last year: attaching poison-pill amendments to extend the assault weapons ban, require trigger locks on handguns, and force dealers at gun shows to conduct criminal-background checks on all purchasers.
“Last year, the numbers did not look good for us, to be honest, but we felt some of these amendments needed to be addressed and some passed, although by close votes,” he said.
Those amendments made the bill unacceptable to the National Rifle Association and pro-gun lawmakers, and with liberal senators opposing the immunity provisions, the overall bill was rejected on a 98-2 vote.
“I’m just sick at heart, but we’ll fight as well as we can; 60 votes is a strong margin, no question,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who led the fight last year to attach a 10-year extension of the assault weapons ban.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, pulled the defense appropriations bill off the table and moved immediately to the gun bill. Democratic lawmakers said Mr. First was sparing the White House embarrassment over losing votes on base closures and on the handling of terrorism suspects detained at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“About three weeks ago to this body, we had a number of issues that we were going to address before leaving for recess. One of those was the gun liability bill,” Mr. Frist said. “There are lots of roadblocks right now, barriers being thrown up to prevent us from raising a very important bill.”
Democrats asked several parliamentary questions in an attempt to block the bill from being brought to the floor.
“Apparently the Republican leader thinks that there is more of a national security interest in protecting the future profits of the gun industry than the national security interests of what we are doing on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said later.
Mr. Frist said the military faces dire consequences in the field if a successful lawsuit hinders the industry or reduces the availability of guns.
“Given the amount, the profusion of litigation, the Department of Defense faces the real prospect of having to outsource side arms for our soldiers to foreign manufacturers,” he said.