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Lawsuit Preemption Bill Advances in House Hearing

Friday, April 19, 2002

Thursday, April 18, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection held a hearing on H.R. 2037. This bill, introduced by U.S. Representatives Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Chris John (D-La.), would block politically-motivated lawsuits that seek to hold gun makers liable for the criminal misuse of their products. Unable to convince lawmakers to ban firearms, anti-gun extremists and several big-city mayors have resorted to trying to circumvent the legislative process and cripple gun makers with financially draining legal fees. H.R. 2037 would put a halt to the coordinated onslaught of frivolous litigation intended to bankrupt gun makers.

During the hearing, Rep. John accurately pointed out that Congress is the proper venue for interstate commerce issues, not the courtrooms, and Rep. Stearns explained the true intentions of the suits. "These suits are different from other lawsuits against an industry. The cities and counties are not representing specific victims, nor are they claiming specific damage against [public] property," he said. Stearns went on to say, "Instead, they are suing because they happen to dislike a product that a company produces and markets legally."

Rep. Stearns, Chairman of the subcommittee, also asked Jeff Reh, the Vice General Manager and General Counsel of firearm manufacturer Beretta, why the city of Boston recently voluntarily dismissed its case against the firearms industry. Reh explained that after Boston reviewed millions of pages of internal firearms industry documents and took numerous depositions, the city realized that it simply did not have a case, and that the firearms industry has a longstanding commitment to promoting safe and responsible gun usage.

NSSF Vice President and General Counsel Larry Keane also submitted testimony, which stated, "These suits have been an unnecessary distraction to our nation`s firearms manufacturers, whose time and attention would be better-spent supplying law enforcement and our armed forces with the equipment they need to protect America and combat global terrorism."

And Dr. Sterling Burnett of the National Center for Policy Analysis testified, "Lawsuit proponents, unable to convince democratically-elected legislators that removing guns from the hands of law-abiding citizens will reduce crime, are attempting to use the courts to impose their views on a skeptical public. By protecting lawful gun makers from frivolous lawsuits, legislators are defending the democratic process."

U.S. Rep. Dianne DeGette (D-Colo.), one of the more extreme anti-gun voices in Congress, tried to raise the inapplicable analogy of the Ford Pinto in her opposition to the bill. She stated the car, "would explode in a ball of flames when the car collided with other objects," then claimed, "Liability suits were brought against the manufacturer of the Pinto, and cars are much safer today."

But U.S. Rep. Ernest Fletcher (R-Ky.) pointed out, "If a gun actually explodes in an individuals face ... the manufacturer could still be held liable, just like Ford Motor Company with the Pinto. What we`re talking about is: Would Ford Motor Company and the Pinto be liable if somebody runs over an innocent bystander? Clearly, that`s not the case."

U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant (R-Tenn.) elaborated, "We don`t hold the car industry responsible for incidents when the driver is irresponsible. If someone who is intoxicated gets behind the wheel of a car and has an accident—you don`t sue the car manufacturer."

Make no mistake, it is critical that H.R. 2037 become law in order to thwart anti-gun extremists from using reckless lawsuits to bankrupt the firearms industry. Our Right to Keep and Bear Arms necessarily requires the ability to buy firearms, so what practical good is the Second Amendment if we don`t have a viable American firearms industry? H.R. 2037 protects firearms manufacturers that comply with the law from being held accountable for the actions of criminals, but does not exempt them from traditional, legitimate product liability or other negligence suits.

And while NRA has been extremely successful with passing reckless lawsuit preemption bills at the state level, a federal prohibition is critical. Kansas Governor Bill Graves (R) signed reckless lawsuit preemption into law yesterday, making Kansas the 28th state to enact such a prohibition. Governor Graves` action deserves thanks from the pro-gun community, but this still leaves 22 states where anti-gun extremists can continue to shop their baseless lawsuit agenda.

There are currently 221 co-sponsors for H.R. 2037, three more than a simple majority of House members, but that still does not guarantee passage of this critical reform. The more supporters we can enlist, the better the chance will be for this bill becoming law. The following eight House members are considered possible co-sponsors, and NRA members in their states are urged to contact them and request their support: Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), Nathan Deal (R-Ga.), Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.), Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), Dan Miller (R-Fla.), Thomas Petri (R-Wisc.), Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), and Jerry Weller (R-Ill.). You can reach these lawmakers by calling the House switchboard at (202) 225-3121, or for additional contact information, use the "Write Your Reps" tool below.

In addition, U.S. Senators Zell Miller (D-Ga.) and Larry Craig (R-Id.) are expected to introduce the Senate version of H.R. 2037 very soon, so be sure to contact your U.S. Senators and urge them to sign on as co-sponsors, once the bill is introduced. You can reach your U.S. Senators by calling (202) 224-3121, or to find additional contact information for them, use our "Write Your Reps" tool at right.

Finally, be sure to contact the following pro-gun U.S. Representatives who participated in yesterday`s committee hearing to thank them for their support of this critical reform: Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), Chris John (D-La.), Billy Tauzin (R-La.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Nathan Deal (R-Ga.), Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Ed Bryant (R-Tenn.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Lee Terry (R-Neb.), and Charlie Bass (R-N.H.). You can reach these lawmakers by calling the House switchboard at (202) 225-3121, or use our "Write Your Reps" tool for additional contact information.

To read industry testimony in support of this critical legislation click on the links below:

Prepared testimony from the hearing is also available at http://energycommerce.house.gov/107/hearings/04182002Hearing537/hearing.htm.

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