Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - The nation's largest anti-gun group Thursday filed suit against the manufacturer of the gun allegedly used by Washington, D.C.-area sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo and the Washington state gun store from which the semi-automatic rifle was allegedly lost or stolen.
Dennis Henigan, legal director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence (formerly known as Handgun Control, Inc.), announced the lawsuit at the National Press Club.
"If you're going to choose the sell this kind of a high firepower military gun to the civilian population," Henigan said, "we're saying you have a special responsibility to make sure that the dealers you're using to sell that gun themselves act responsibly."
The Brady Center filed the suit on behalf of the families of two shooting victims who were allegedly killed by Muhammad and Malvo using a Bushmaster .223 caliber rifle.
Contrary to Henigan's statement, the rifle is a civilian, not military weapon. Bushmaster does sell military weapons from its Windham, Maine location, but only to purchasers authorized by the federal government such as state and local law enforcement agencies.
Allen Faraday, vice president of administration for Bushmaster, told CNSNews.com Thursday evening that his organization goes beyond the requirements of the law and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) regulations when screening its dealers, just as Henigan suggested they should.
"We're required to have on file a signed Federal Firearms License (FFL) for every dealer that we do business with," Faraday explained. "In addition to that, what we do prior to every single shipment of a firearm, we go onto the BATF website that they provided us and verify that that FFL is current and valid.
"We also verify the street address that the FFL is licensed to because from time to time a dealer will change ownership or close or BATF will have a problem with them and revoke their license," he continued.
That vigilance, Faraday said, has paid off in the past.
"On occasion, we've caught scams where people will doctor up somebody else's FFL with their own address," he explained. Sales are denied in such cases and authorities are notified.
Bull's Eye Shooter Supply of Tacoma, Wash., the dealer to which a Bushmaster distributor sold the rifle allegedly used by Muhammad and Malvo to commit the murders was not, however, one of those scams. The business had, and still has a valid FFL, although an investigation is underway into a number of missing weapons for which Bull's Eye has no record of sale.
The Brady Center claims in its lawsuit that - despite the fact that BATF had not revoked Bull's Eye's Federal Firearms License - Bushmaster was responsible for knowing of the dealer's alleged negligence.
The Brady Center's argument falls apart, Faraday believes, when the highly contentious topic of "guns" is removed from the debate.
"Does an automobile dealer or manufacturer have any responsibility to do a background check to see if a potential buyer of a car has a [drunken driving] record?" he asked rhetorically. "Of course not, it's ridiculous ... you wouldn't think about putting that back onto the manufacturer."
But that is exactly what Faraday believes The Brady Center is trying to accomplish; holding his company responsible for the actions of a third party over whom it could legally have exercised no control. The Bushmaster executive believes he knows the real reason behind the lawsuit.
"Our complaint here is not with the families of the victims of the shooters. We feel very badly and very sad about what happened to them," Faraday stressed.
"Our real problem is with these well-financed anti-gun groups out there, like the Brady group, that take advantage of these heinous crimes simply to further their agenda, which is an attempt to take firearms away from law-abiding citizens ... They don't want anybody to have guns," he said.
During an interview on MSNBC's Buchanan and Press program, Henigan admitted that Bushmaster did not know of the record-keeping problems at Bull's Eye prior to the arrest of Muhammad and Malvo.
"What is really revealing here, Pat [Buchanan], is that now Bushmaster knows what this dealer is all about, the facts have been exposed," Henigan said.
"You telling me that they didn't know beforehand!" Buchanan exclaimed. "You're saying, yourself, that they didn't know about it!"
Buchanan accused the Brady Center of suing Bushmaster because the company had "deep pockets," as opposed to the alleged snipers who are both destitute. He also accused the anti-gun group of attempting to drive the company out of business to further its political agenda.
Henigan did not answer the charges, but the Brady Center has also named Muhammad and Malvo in the lawsuit.
Discussing the issue of medical malpractice Thursday, President Bush took aim at what he called "junk lawsuits" filed solely to enrich trial lawyers and plaintiffs, not to seek legitimate change or punish wrongdoing.
"We're a litigious society; everybody is suing, it seems like. There are too many lawsuits in America," the president said. "And one thing the American people must understand is, even though the lawsuits are junk lawsuits and they have no basis, they're still expensive.
"They're expensive to fight," Bush continued. "It costs money to fight off a junk lawsuit."
Congress attempted to block such lawsuits against the gun industry with the Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2002.
The bill was scheduled to come to the House floor for a vote when the sniper attacks began in the Washington area. It was pulled from consideration out of respect for the victims' families, but is expected to be resubmitted to the 108th Congress.
Faraday said anti-gun organizations - that cannot get the American people or elected representatives to support their disarmament agenda - are trying to achieve their goals through the courts instead. He warned that gun manufacturers are quickly growing tired of the harassment.
"Groups like the Brady Campaign, that file all of these frivolous lawsuits, at some point are going to have to take responsibility for that," Faraday predicted. "Eventually, the manufacturers are going to stand up and say enough is enough and file counter-suits."
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