Gun Maker Lawsuit Shield Bill Had Anti-Gun Provisions

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - Legislation passed Thursday to protect the gun industry from many liability lawsuits includes anti-gun amendments that could have been blocked during consideration of the bill in the House, according to one pro-gun organization. The group believes failing to block those amendments could haunt gun owners in the future.

The "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act" is designed to protect firearms manufacturers, distributors, dealers and importers from being sued for the criminal misuse of their products by unrelated third parties. The House passed the Senate's version - S. 397 - by a vote of 283 to 144.

The Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA) praised passage of the bill.

"This junk lawsuit ban strikes a blow to those seeking to shift blame from criminals to law abiding Americans," said Jim Fotis, a retired police officer and LEAA executive director.

Fotis added that the money some cities had used or planned to use for lawsuits against gun makers could now be devoted to "real crime fighting.

"Take New Orleans for example," Fotis continued. "They were one of the first to waste taxpayer dollars on these frivolous lawsuits when they could have been spending their time and money on real crime fighting efforts, like better training and pay for police officers and putting more cops on the street."

The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA) also supported the bill and expressed its appreciation in a statement released after the vote.

"This important legislation will stop the anti-gunners cold in their attempts to bankrupt firearms manufacturers, distributors and retailers," Alan M. Gottlieb, chairman of CCKRBA said. "It closes an important loophole through which extremist gun grabbers have been trying to use the courts to crush gun ownership in this country, when they could not get Congress or state legislatures to do their bidding."

The National Rifle Association (NRA) backed the proposal, as well. In an online communication called "Stop Reckless Lawsuits!," the NRA asked its members shortly after the bills were introduced to urge their elected officials to support the legislation. The NRA also stressed the need to protect the integrity of the proposals.

"It is imperative that you contact your U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative today and ask them to cosponsor and support S.397 and H.R. 800 - without any anti-gun amendments - and put a halt to these reckless lawsuits once and for all," an NRA message stated. "And be sure to let them know that you consider any votes in support of anti-gun amendments to this legislation as a vote against the underlying bill itself." (Emphasis in original.)

The House version passed without any of the objectionable amendments, a so-called "clean" bill. But two amendments proposed by known anti-gun lawmakers were attached to the Senate version of the bill. And it was that version that passed the House Thursday, paving the way for the bill, and the amendments, to become law.

One of the amendments would require gun dealers to sell each gun buyer a trigger lock or gun safe for every handgun they purchase. Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America (GOA), bristled at what he believes is the underlying assumption supporting that amendment.

"It's a highly offensive assumption," Pratt said, "that somehow the average person, unless a gun is in a block of cement, is going to commit mayhem with it."

Another amendment would ban possession of so-called "armor piercing" ammunition during the commission of a crime. That proposal has drawn criticism from some hunting groups, which fear the definition could be easily expanded to ban all rifle ammunition at all times.

NRA accused of blocking last chance at 'clean' bill

Under the House rules, the last chance for opponents to stop a vote on a proposal is the "motion to recommit." The maneuver is essentially a vote on whether to take a vote on the measure under consideration. The technique is sometimes used, however, by those who support a particular piece of legislation, but would rather see a different version considered.

In an e-mail sent Wednesday to members of the House and obtained by Cybercast News Service, Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), included this admonition to representatives.

"Due to the importance of this issue, the NRA will consider votes on final passage and a Motion to Recommit in future candidate ratings and evaluations," Cox wrote.

In the case of Thursday's vote, a successful "motion to recommit" would have blocked a vote on S. 397 with its anti-gun amendments. The House leadership could have then brought up the amendment-free H.R. 800 again or dropped the bill and moved on. If the original version - which passed by a vote of 285 to 140 - had been passed again, the House and Senate would have been forced to either reconcile the differing versions or let the bill die.

Pratt believes the NRA opposed the use of the motion to recommit because the organization did not want to appear unreasonable for opposing the trigger lock amendment.

"(NRA officials) think that this will be the end of it; that this will convince the other side that we've been reasonable," Pratt surmised, "and, further, they think that we have the votes to stop a worse outcome in the future."

Kelly Hobbs, spokesperson for the NRA, shrugged off Pratt's criticism.

"That's more of a hypothetical. I never heard anything of the sort and, obviously, it didn't happen," Hobbs said, referring to any attempt to bring up the House version of the bill using a motion to recommit.

Amendment may set stage for future trigger lock battle

Pratt believes anti-gun members of the Senate pushed for the trigger lock amendment following the same plan traffic safety advocates used to get mandatory seat belt laws passed.

"First the seat belt had to be in the car. In terms of the locks, first they had to be available at the store, which is now the law," Pratt explained. "This bill will make it so that they have to be sold to you when you buy a gun at the store.

"Our concern is that, to finish the analogy, just like we now have to wear the seat belt or it's an offense," Pratt continued, "so, too, we would have to lock up our firearms or it would be some kind of crime, probably a felony."

But Pratt highlighted the case of Mary Carpenter to explain why mandating trigger lock use, unlike seat belts, could be dangerous. In 2000, Carpenter's family was attacked by a pitchfork-wielding intruder in their California home. There were firearms in the home and the residents had been trained in their use for self-defense. But the guns were stored with locks and separated from ammunition, as required by California law. The attacker killed two of Carpenter's grandchildren before the firearms could be retrieved and loaded.

Pratt believes it will be difficult for those who did not argue forcefully against mandatory trigger lock sales to oppose an expansion of the law.

"Once you've agreed, in principle that it's a good idea to require the sale of the product," Pratt warned, "then wouldn't it make sense, a member of Congress might ask, that we also support requiring the use of it?

"Gun control advocates have never been satisfied with any concession that's ever been made," he concluded.

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