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Reckless Lawsuit Preemption Bill Introduced In Congress

Friday, March 7, 2003

U.S. Representative Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) teamed with Representatives Rick Boucher (D-Va.), Melissa Hart (R-Penn.), and Chris John (D-La.) to introduce reckless lawsuit preemption legislation, H.R. 1036, in the House last week. The bill was submitted on February 27 with 243 original cosponsors—an impressive debut that easily exceeds a simple majority of U.S. Representatives. The bill’s strong, bipartisan support (45 Democrats signed on as cosponsors) has sent a chilling message to the gun-ban lobby: Congress is poised to put an end to the Brady Campaign’s (a.k.a., HCI’s) shameless efforts to bankrupt the firearms industry through the tactic of filing, funding, or otherwise promoting dozens of predatory lawsuits—suits embraced and supported by anti-gun big-city mayors that seek to advance the absurd notion that the law-abiding firearms industry should be held responsible for the actions of violent criminals.

As expected, the Brady Campaign/HCI responded to the introduction of H.R. 1036 with its usual baseless vitriol. In a release issued on March 3, the gun-ban lobby’s Chair, Sarah Brady, "denounce[d]" and "condemned" the legislation, which would put an end to the organization’s exploitation and abuse of our judicial process. HCI President Michael Barnes made the outrageous claim that the legislation would "deny justice to America’s gun violence victims," implying that the only form of "justice" offered in America to victims of crime is the ability to sue a third party that bears no responsibility for the crime. Brady parroted Barnes’s sentiment, stating, "Any member of Congress who supports [H.R. 1036] ... should have to explain to victims of gun violence why their rights are being taken away."

Both Barnes and Brady appear to be promoting the ludicrous concept that only monetary awards paid by lawful manufacturers can bring crime victims justice. The implication seems to be that catching, convicting, and punishing those who commit violent crimes is not justice enough.

The true motivation behind the gun-ban lobby’s opposition to H.R. 1036, however, is less a matter of seeking its version of "justice" than it is masking its own legislative failures. Unable to move its gun-ban agenda forward in most state legislatures and Congress, HCI has spent the last several years relying on a scheme to drive the firearms industry into bankruptcy under the crushing financial burden of having to defend itself in court against countless frivolous suits. It is even possible the reckless lawsuit agenda was never intended to actually win any final judgements against the firearms industry.

HCI and its trial attorneys must have realized, long ago, the futility of trying to change decades of established jurisprudence. Courts have consistently rejected the outlandish concept of holding the law-abiding manufacturer of a legal product responsible for criminals who obtain that product through illegal channels, then use it for purposes never intended or condoned by the manufacturer. In fact, numerous courts, including state Supreme Courts, have already dismissed HCI-backed cases. Even today, a California judge rejected the suits of 12 California municipalities. (See following story for more details.) And 31 states have enacted legislation prohibiting these reckless suits, with West Virginia poised to join that list. But as long as HCI, its attorneys, and anti-gun big-city mayors are able to collude to saddle law-abiding gun makers with the cost of defending their lawful practices in court, the entire gun industry is at risk of being eradicated.

H.R. 1036 would put an end to the gun-ban lobby’s campaign of predatory lawsuits, closing the door to HCI’s agenda of circumventing the legislative process by hijacking our nation’s courts with these oppressive lawsuits. Those lawmakers who have already signed on to this legislation deserve our thanks, so please call them to express your support. Those who have not should be encouraged to sign on as cosponsors, and U.S. Senators need to be encouraged to support a companion bill in the Senate.

You can reach your U.S. Representative by calling (202) 225-3121, and your U.S. Senators by calling (202) 224-3121. For additional contact information, use our "Write Your Representatives" tool.

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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.