- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Congress yesterday passed a bill protecting the firearms industry from lawsuits brought by local governments.

President Bush said he would sign the measure.

“Our laws should punish criminals who use guns to commit crimes, not law-abiding manufacturers of lawful products,” he said.

The House voted 283-144 to send the bill to the president after supporters, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), proclaimed it vital to protect the industry from being bankrupted by huge jury awards.

Under the measure, a half-dozen pending lawsuits by local governments against the industry would be dismissed. Anti-gun groups say some lawsuits filed by individual people also could be thrown out.

Propelled by Republican election gains and the incidents of lawlessness in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, support for the bill has grown since a similar measure passed the House last year but was killed in the Senate.

With support from four new Republican senators in this session of Congress, the bill passed the Senate for the first time in July. House passage never was in doubt because it had 257 co-sponsors, far more than the 218 needed.

Televised images of New Orleans residents without police protection made a particular impression on viewers who had never felt unsafe before, said Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president.

“Americans saw a complete collapse of the government’s ability to protect them,” Mr. LaPierre said. “That burnt in — those pictures of people standing there defending their lives and defending their property and their family, where the one source of comfort was a firearm.”

Opponents called the bill’s passage proof of the gun lobby’s power over the Republican-controlled Congress.

“It is shameful that Republicans in Congress are pushing legislation that guarantees their gun-dealing cronies receive special treatment and are above the law,” said Rep. Robert Wexler, Florida Democrat.

The bill’s authors say it still would allow civil suits against individual parties who have been found guilty of criminal wrongdoing by the courts, but protect against lawsuits targeting innocent firms.

“Lawsuits seeking to hold the firearms industry responsible for the criminal and unlawful use of its products are brazen attempts to accomplish through litigation what has not been achieved by legislation and the democratic process,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, told his colleagues.

Democrats and Republicans alike court the NRA at election time, and the bill garnered bipartisan support. But the firearms industry still gave 88 percent of its campaign contributions, or $1.2 million, to Republicans in the 2004 election cycle. Gun-control advocates, meanwhile, gave 98 percent of their contributions, or $93,700, to Democrats that cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

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