Monday, December 13, 2004

The Republican gain of four Senate seats and several new conservative House members breathes new life into legislation supported by gun rights advocates to protect the firearms industry.

The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF), in a report detailing their 2004 electoral gains at all levels, showed stronger support for a bill to protect gun makers and dealers from lawsuits stemming from the criminal actions of a third party.

“These types of lawsuits are an abuse of the American legal system and unless Congress steps in we will lose,” said Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president.

He said his organization will lobby for the bill’s return this year and warned of the impact if the bill does not pass.

“All of the great American names in the firearm industry will be forced to leave the country or close,” he said. “If that happens the nation will have to rely on foreign corporations to supply its firearms, and we don’t think that is good for American people, businesses or law enforcement.”

All but one of the 14 Senate candidates endorsed by the NRA-PVF — Pete Coors in Colorado — were victorious.

In the House among the 251 candidates endorsed by the NRA-PVF, 241 won their races.

“We were able to defeat our anti-gun and anti-hunting opponents in unprecedented fashion, setting records for electoral activity,” said Chris Cox, NRA executive director.

On the down side for the NRA, the group noted that Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry’s strategy neutralized his gun control record as an issue by “posing” as a hunter and sportsman.

“He is in fact the most anti-gun candidate we’ve ever had,” said Kayne B. Robinson, president of the NRA.

He said Mr. Kerry was effective at getting voters to believe he was a pro-gun candidate, and that the NRA had been unable to refocus the press and voters’ interest on his 20-year record supporting gun control policies.

The NRA-PVF spent about $20 million, raised directly from individuals and bundled from groups, to highlight Mr. Kerry’s record on guns. The money bought 1,700 print, 20,000 radio and 28,000 TV advertisement spots in addition to millions of pamphlets.

Most of the ads and pamphlets were distributed in 13 “battleground” states — including Ohio, which gave President Bush the last Electoral College votes needed to win, and South Dakota, which made Democrat Tom Daschle the first sitting Senate party leader to lose his seat in a half-century.

“We are the ordinary Americans who re-elected President George W. Bush with the largest popular vote in history,” Mr. Cox said in the NRA-PVF report.

“Embittered anti-gun and anti-hunting extremists at all levels — from town councils to the United Nations — will be stopping at nothing to seek revenge for the drubbing we gave them at the polls.”

Last year, gun control advocates in the Senate defeated a bill to limit lawsuits against gun manufacturers, by attaching amendments to it that would extend the assault weapons ban and mandate trigger locks on weapons.

Between liberals opposed to the lawsuit limits and conservatives opposed to the assault-weapons ban, the whole bill sank on a 98-2 vote.

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, authored last year’s bill and expects to bring the measure up again early next year.

“I’m sure it will be very early in the next Congress, but after he looks to the incoming freshmen to see where they are on the legislation,” said Mr. Craig’s spokesman Sid Smith.

Mr. LaPierre attributed the failure of the bill to a misunderstanding of the stakes by senators and the public.

“You can still sue if a manufacturer or dealer violates state or local laws, breaches a contract or sells a defective product that led to the death or injury,” he said.

“But it stops a lawsuit against a manufacturer for a third party criminal misuse, and that always breaks the chain of liability in hundreds of years of tort law.”

He added that gun makers are not in the league of giant corporations such as “General Electric, General Motors or Ford” or the tobacco industry that can afford to defend multiple, multimillion-dollar lawsuits.

“That is one of the major points … the manufacturers have won every case, but the legal fees will drive them out of business,” Mr. LaPierre said.

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