U.S. Sens. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have introduced the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act to block baseless lawsuits by anti-gun groups and greedy trial lawyers seeking to bankrupt the American firearm industry. The bill recognizes those lawsuits as a flagrant abuse of the judicial system, designed to advance a stalled anti-gun legislative agenda.
More than 30 states have already prohibited localities from filing these junk lawsuits. Members of both parties in Congress recognize, however, that a federal remedy is needed. The House passed similar legislation in April 2003 by a better than 2-1 margin. The Craig-Baucus bill has 55 co-sponsors.
To "preserve a citizen`s access to a supply of firearms and ammunition for all lawful purposes, including hunting, self-defense, collecting, and competitive or recreational shooting," the bill finds that:
The liability actions commenced or contemplated by the Federal Government, States, municipalities, and private interest groups are based on theories without foundation in hundreds of years of the common law and jurisprudence of the United States and do not represent a bona fide expansion of the common law. The possible sustaining of these actions by a maverick judicial officer or petit jury would expand civil liability in a manner never contemplated by the framers of the Constitution, by Congress, or by the legislatures of the several States. Such an expansion of liability would constitute a deprivation of the rights, privileges, and immunities guaranteed to a citizen of the United States under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The bill will "prohibit civil liability actions from being brought or continued against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition for damages resulting from the misuse of their products by others." It defines unlawful misuse as "conduct that violates a statute, ordinance or regulation as it relates to the use of a qualified product." It requires any "qualified civil liability action" pending on the bill`s date of enactment be immediately dismissed by the court in which the action was brought.
The bill defines "qualified civil liability action" as "a civil action brought by any person against a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product, or a trade association, for damages resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a qualified product by the person or a third party." There is no blanket immunity, as the definition does not include:
- an action brought against a transferor convicted for transferring a firearm knowing it would be used in a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, by a party directly harmed by the conduct of which the transferee is so convicted;
- an action against a dealer who conspires with "straw purchasers" to provide firearms to prohibited persons;
- an action brought against a seller for supplying a firearm or ammunition to another person when one knows, or should know, that other person is likely to, and does, use the product in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical injury to the person and others or negligence per se;
- an action in which a manufacturer or seller knowingly violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product, and the violation was a proximate cause of the harm for which relief is sought;
- an action for breach of contract or warranty in connection with the purchase of the product; or
- an action for physical injuries or property damage resulting directly from a defect in design or manufacture of the product, when used in a reasonably foreseeable manner.