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Testimony of Jeff Reh General Counsel, Beretta U.S.A. Corp.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection



April 18, 2002

Chairman Stearns, Members of the Committee, my name is Jeff Reh. I am General Counsel and a Member of the Board of Directors for Beretta U.S.A. Corp. Beretta U.S.A. supplies the standard sidearm to all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and is a supplier of sidearms to hundreds of law enforcement departments throughout the United States and to civilian customers as well.

Beginning in 1998, a number of local politicians filed lawsuits against firearm manufacturers seeking to impose their own restraints on firearm design and distribution. These restraints were not new ideas. All or virtually all have been proposed, considered, debated and rejected by this Congress or by legislatures in states across the country.

Thwarted by their inability to convince a majority of legislators at the national or state level to accept their restrictions, these politicians used the power of their offices to file lawsuits. The procedure by which they used the courts in this way was a simple one. First, they created a list of demands. Second, they ignored what was already being done. Many of their demands were already being met by a firearm industry that had, decades ago, initiated safety programs and developed safety devices that have reduced the fatal accident rate with firearms to its lowest level since 1903. These same manufacturers employ one of the most highly regulated, carefully monitored systems for distributing a product in the country.

Some of the demands sought by these plaintiffs presented design hazards about which the politicians appeared unaware. Some demands were directly contrary to distribution instructions firearm manufacturers received from law enforcement authorities, instructions intended to protect ongoing police investigations and the lives of undercover agents. In some cases, the plaintiffs simply demanded that they be put in charge of the design and distribution practices of individual companies. Instead of trying to find out why firearms are designed in a particular way and why certain distribution techniques are employed, the cities and counties sued to impose their opinion about these matters directly on the manufacturers.

This use of social issue litigation to extort compliance, on a national scale, to one person’s demands, circumvents the democratic process by using the judicial branch to advance a legislative agenda. Only Congress, which represents the viewpoints of citizens across the country, is authorized to balance the complex interests of national security, individual freedom and personal protection that underlie an issue like firearm ownership, design and distribution. Only Congress is empowered to represent all of the citizens of the nation on this issue.

If the tactic of these lawsuits is allowed to succeed, recourse to the courts can make the legislature superfluous. This violates the Separation of Powers in the Constitution. It also robs the public of their elected voice in government. Regrettably, cases of this type can succeed, not just through a jury verdict, but because of the costs of defending against litigation. Most firearm manufacturers have small revenues and low profit margins. The tyranny of legal costs can–and has–driven firearm manufacturers into bankruptcy. Lawsuits put money in the pockets of lawyers rather than in the hands of factory workers. Many countries consider domestic firearm production to be a vital national security interest. These lawsuits threaten that resource in the United States.

Begun to advance one narrow point of view, these cases risk a vital industry. If, for example, a single judge or jurors in one city, enter a verdict against the industry in the sum of billions of dollars, the cost of purchasing a bond before an appeal can be undertaken could bankrupt even the most substantial company. Rogue juries or individual judges might see such cases as an opportunity to destroy firearm companies and, either unwittingly or without caring, block the means by which Americans exercise their Second Amendment freedoms of self-defense and self-determination.

Even the cities that have brought these lawsuits do not seem completely convinced they are correct. The law enforcement departments of every city or county that has filed a lawsuit against the firearm industry use handguns that do not contain all of the design features they seek to require. Most of these cities had longstanding practices of reselling police department firearms to the public using the same distribution system that they now claim is inadequate.

Although some of these cases have been rejected by the courts, many cases remain. The financial threat to the firearm industry continues. New cases can be filed at any time and represent a future threat. The mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey recently filed such a lawsuit, but this body should not allow the mayor of Jersey City to decide the design of a firearm purchased by an Iowa farmer. He should not be allowed to invent his own hurdles that must be met before a retiree in Florida can buy a handgun for self-defense. He should not be allowed to imperil the source of firearms used by our Armed Forces or by our police. Only Congress should determine the national rules concerning this important issue and, for that reason, we respectfully request that this body approve H.R. 2037.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.