Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was able to outmaneuver Democrat opponents of a bill invalidating certain lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers, leaving them with only one amendment to offer.
Mr. Frist, Tennessee Republican, allowed an amendment introduced by Sen. Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Democrat, mandating trigger locks be sold with handguns. The amendment passed in a 70-30 vote. Mr. Kohl said the mandate was a “no-brainer.”
“If 90 percent [of handguns] are sold with trigger locks, then you have to ask what the other 10 are doing, and if 90 percent are, then there is no adverse effect on the industry, so I am pleased,” Mr. Kohl said.
Mr. Frist effectively blocked all other amendments Democrats were hoping to offer, setting up a final vote on the bill tomorrow.
Last year, Democrats were able to get the bill killed by adding amendments that were unpalatable to the National Rifle Association and pro-gun lawmakers. The bill failed 98-2.
This year, the bill is assured passage with 60 co-sponsors and nearly a third of the Democratic Caucus supporting it, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and the Democrats’ and the Senate’s most senior member Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.
The bill would put an end to “junk” lawsuits that attempt to hold the gun industry liable for the actions of criminals who maliciously steal and kill using their products.
“Interest groups … have now chosen the court route to attempt to destroy this very valuable industry in our country,” said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, who sponsored the legislation. “Over two dozen suits have been filed on a variety of theories, but all seek the same goal of forcing law-abiding businesses selling a legal product to pay for damages from the criminal misuse of that product.”
Mr. Frist introduced two amendments Wednesday, immediately after filing a motion to close debate on the bill, effectively taking up all of the speaking time. He also scheduled a final cloture vote for 1 a.m. today.
That action called “filling the tree,” a parliamentary tactic, effectively removed any hope that Democrats would be able to offer any other amendments, namely to extend the assault weapons ban for 10 years and another to force gun dealers at gun shows to conduct criminal background checks.
It also followed the directive given earlier this week from President Bush.
“The Administration urges the Senate to pass a clean bill, in order to ensure enactment of the legislation this year. Any amendment that would delay enactment of the bill beyond this year is unacceptable,” said White House officials in a statement of administration policy sent to the Senate Tuesday.
Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, who is leading the sparse opposition to the bill, said his party would continue to fight for the amendments.