Anti-Gun Group Takes Aim at Bill Banning Negligence Lawsuits

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has launched an advertising assault on a new bill before Congress that would prohibit negligence lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers.

The legislation, which has 247 co-sponsors in the House and 52 co-sponsors in the Senate, is designed to halt the growing number of lawsuits that seek to hold the firearms industry liable for crimes involving guns.

Although the lawsuits, many backed by the Brady Campaign's Legal Action Project, have resulted in few victories, the gun industry and most members of Congress want to put an end to them. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act has bipartisan support in both houses.

But that has not stopped the Brady Campaign from placing an ad this week in Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill. The ad features former New Jersey police officer Kenneth McGuire, who is suing a West Virginia pawnshop for allegedly selling guns that ended up in New Jersey.

McGuire and his partner were shot with one of the guns, and he blames the gun's manufacturer, dealer and purchaser for negligence. Last week, a West Virginia judge refused to dismiss the case. It is one of a handful of examples the Brady Campaign highlights on its website.

Brady Campaign Chairwoman Sarah Brady, wife of former Reagan Administration Press Secretary James Brady, said the bill pending before Congress is "special interest legislation of the worst kind.

"Any member of Congress who supports legislation to give the gun industry legal immunity should have to explain to victims of gun violence why their rights are being taken away," she said in a statement.

Calls to the Brady Campaign were not returned, but the group's website features a number of documents outlining its concerns about the bill. In addition to McGuire's case, the group draws attention to other "innocent victims" who would be denied the right to sue.

They include Sherialyn Byrdsong, whose husband was killed during a shooting spree by white supremacist Benjamin Smith in Illinois in 1999. Her negligence and public nuisance case, which is pending in an Illinois court, targets the gun's manufacturer for not placing conditions on the sale of its firearms.

The other is Tenille Jefferson, the mother of a 7-year-old boy who was shot and killed by another youngster. She claims the gun should have featured childproof safety devices. Jefferson is suing the gun manufacturer, dealer and distributor. The case is pending in Pennsylvania.

Under the bills before Congress, all of these lawsuits would be dismissed, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

The pro-Second Amendment group hailed the introduction of the bill as a common-sense measure to put an end to "junk lawsuits." NSSF spokesman Gary G. Mehalik said gun-control supporters are using the lawsuits to advance their political agenda.

Mehalik said the Brady Campaign fails to tell the full story about the legislation.

"Nobody's right to sue for a defective product is going to be affected," he said. "The legislation is crafted particularly to deal with the utter ridiculousness of these lawsuits. It goes against established common law and all kinds of tradition and codified law for people to be held accountable for things for which they had no control, and that's what these laws are about."

He compared the gun-control lawsuits to someone suing a car manufacturer and brewery for an individual's decision to drink and drive.

In most instances, he said the lawsuits have failed to achieve their objectives. Earlier this month, a California judge dismissed a case against gun manufacturers, trade groups and most firearms distributors. The city of Boston previously dropped its case.

Even if Congress passed the legislation and it was signed into law, Mehalik said manufacturers, dealers and distributors would still be held accountable if they violated existing laws.

"The firearms industry supports the prosecution of the people who break the law," he said. "That includes dealers who might operate outside the law or people who illegally supply firearms to felons. Those things are against the law, and the industry supports the fullest prosecution of those lawbreakers."

The legislation has the support of other Second Amendment advocates like the National Rifle Association. Spokeswoman Kelly Whitley said the negligence lawsuits "have nothing to do with any actions by the gun industry. It's all based on the criminal acts of a third party."

Whitley said gun-control groups are using the courts to accomplish their goals since they have repeatedly failed at the ballot box.

"We're a nation at war," she said, "and the Brady Campaign and the anti-gun crowd are pushing to bankrupt the industry that supplies our troops with the tools needed to battle terrorism."

No action has been taken on either bill. The House measure (H.R. 1036) is sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), and Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) introduced the Senate version.

See Earlier Story:
Gun Manufacturers Prevail in Calif. Negligent Marketing Case

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