Firearms are a valued part of the culture and fabric of South Dakota. Each year, South Dakota issues well over 120,000 resident hunting licenses, and nearly 100,000 nonresident hunters visit our state each year to support our tourism and hunting industry.
Unfortunately, the centuries-old firearms industry has come under attack by activists who seek to unjustly hold law-abiding gun manufacturers responsible for the actions of violent criminals. Since 1998, almost 40 lawsuits have been filed against the firearms industry for allegedly harming others through the production and distribution of firearms. While none of these lawsuits have yet resulted in an adverse decision, the lengthy litigation process is forcing the industry to pay enormous legal bills to defend themselves.
South Dakotans have long seen the logic and importance in protecting gun manufacturers against these types of frivolous lawsuits. Our state was the first state in the Union to pass liability protection legislation for firearms manufacturers, and now the U.S. Senate has followed suit, having recently passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a bill I cosponsored, which would provide liability protection to law-abiding gunmakers and retailers throughout the nation.
Passage of this bill was a tremendous victory for America's firearms manufacturers, retailers and owners. Not since enactment of 1986's Firearms Owners' Protection Act have we seen such a significant legislative step toward restoring the rule of law and protecting the Second Amendment.
Frivolous lawsuits pose a serious threat to a cornerstone industry in our state. With 22 firearms companies based in South Dakota providing more than 500 South Dakota citizens with quality jobs, the firearms industry plays a key role in our state’s economy, and we cannot afford to see it harmed.
Not only does the firearms industry contribute to our economic well-being, it also boosts our national security. Earlier this year, the Department of Defense issued a letter of support urging Congress to pass this important bill. As a critical part of our national security, the federal government purchases 200,000 firearms and 2 billion rounds of ammunition each year. If frivolous lawsuits bankrupt the industry, the United States would be forced to rely on foreign trade to obtain these weapons and ammunition. Placing ourselves in such a position would directly threaten our national security.
Thomas Jefferson made clear that “No free man shall be debarred the use of arms.” The founders of our great country saw the importance of this personal freedom, and guaranteed the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights. The federal legislation I was proud to cosponsor and support will ensure that our Second Amendment right to use firearms is not undermined by frivolous lawsuits.
The urgency to see this legislation signed into law is now greater than ever. Going against the requests of 12 different states, the Supreme Court recently decided to allow the District of Columbia to sue gun manufacturers for violence in D.C. This decision from the highest court of the land clears the way for a major lawsuit from the nation’s capital—placing the stakes higher than they have ever been. However, if the House passes its version of the liability legislation and sends it to the President in time, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act could void this frivolous and harmful lawsuit.
I hope the House will soon pass and the President sign into law this vital piece of legislation that will protect the firearms industry, maintain our national security, and help guarantee our freedom to bear arms.