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Grassroots Alert: Vol. 10, No. 15 4/11/2003



On Wednesday, April 9, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1036, reckless lawsuit preemption legislation, on an overwhelming, bipartisan 285 - 140 vote. H.R. 1036 seeks to end the abuse of our judicial system by the gun-ban lobby, anti-gun big city mayors, and greedy trial attorneys, by prohibiting their coordinated strategy of filing endless predatory lawsuits designed to drive law-abiding gun manufacturers into bankruptcy. Support for this bill was solidly bipartisan, with 63 Democrats voting in favor. The next step for this critical reform will be consideration in the U.S. Senate. The Senate version, S. 659, was introduced by U.S. Senators Larry Craig (R-Id.)—also an NRA Director—and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and currently has 52 cosponsors. As with the House bill, the Senate version enjoys strong bipartisan support, with nine Democrats already signed on as cosponsors.

Debate on the House floor over H.R. 1036 was very heated at times, with those opposed to the bill using their time to offer inaccurate summaries of the legislation, or launching into anti-gun or anti-NRA diatribes. U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D- Fla.), a strident anti-gun lawmaker, claimed to support our Right to Keep and Bear Arms, but chose to attack semi-automatic and affordable firearms. A number of other anti-gun Representatives also claimed they supported the Second Amendment and that no lawmakers wanted to infringe on our Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Of course, anyone who has followed the issue of "gun control" in Congress would find such sentiments from the likes of U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Jay Inslee (D-Was.), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) to be absurd.

One of the most outspoken opponents of H.R. 1036, anti-gun U.S. Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), made a number of false allegations, including that the legislation would completely immunize the firearm industry from any lawsuit, and would offer "unprecedented" protections from lawsuits. He also claimed the legislation is unconstitutional, although he seemed to say he wasn’t positive of this position, and commented that if the legislation was not unconstitutional, it was at least "unfair." It was this argument that had Watt complaining that the legislation would not just prohibit future suits, but would bring an end to existing suits—some 300 of which he said are currently active.

Most of Watt’s protestations, as well as those of the others who spoke out against H.R. 1036, had no real basis in fact. During floor debate over the bill, U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), who also holds the critical position of House Judiciary Committee Chairman, explained that H.R. 1036 would not prohibit a lawsuit from being filed against any manufacturer that produces a truly defective product. He further explained that the legislation does not prohibit a lawsuit from being filed against any manufacturer, distributer, or dealer proven to have violated any one of the thousands of laws regulating firearms. U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the bill’s lead sponsor, corrected Watt’s contention that the bill is "unprecedented," citing a number of laws on the books that prohibit similar reckless lawsuits. In fact, 32 states have passed laws prohibiting reckless lawsuits against the law-abiding gun industry, including Rep. Watt’s own state of North Carolina, making H.R. 1036 hardly "unprecedented."

Anti-gun U.S. Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.) apparently tried to support Watt’s objection to ending existing suits by arguing that legislation prohibiting these suits wasn’t necessary until the industry actually lost a case. And while it’s true that courts consistently dismiss these predatory suits for having no merit, Reps. Watts and Delahunt are likely aware that none of the suits need to actually win in order to achieve their goal of wiping out the firearm industry. As Lawrence G. Keane, Vice President and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), told the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law last week, Andrew Cuomo (D) once threatened the firearm industry with "death by a thousand cuts" through endless reckless lawsuits. At the time, Cuomo was Bill Clinton’s (D) Housing and Urban Development Secretary, and one of the early proponents of the reckless lawsuit agenda. And as we also reported last week, Walter K. Olson, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, testified before the subcommittee that one of the key proponents of reckless lawsuits, John Coale, had boasted, "The legal fees alone are enough to bankrupt the industry."

Opponents of H.R. 1036 also complained that not enough time had been given to discussing the legislation. But this was clearly little more than a tactic used in an attempt to delay passage of the legislation as long as possible. The longer these reckless suits exist, the more damage they do to the law-abiding firearm industry. It has been estimated that merely fighting the suits, even as they continue to be dismissed, could cost the industry as much as $1 million per day. And, as U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), who chaired last week’s subcommittee hearings, pointed out on Wednesday, similar legislation had already been debated at great length last year. Time is clearly of the essence in derailing this abuse of our courts by anti-gun extremists and their greedy trial lawyer collaborators.

These suits also represent a brazen attempt to circumvent the legislative process by creating de facto laws through rulings by activist judges or juries. Those promoting the most public predatory suit at this time, filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), even openly admit their suit is designed to impose new restrictions on the distribution of firearms. NAACP president and CEO Kweisi Mfume stated on NPR’s Tavis Smiley Show, "We want regulatory rules and practices that will cut down on the distribution and the widespread availability of these weapons."

But lawmakers understand that the reckless suits, such as NAACP’s, are intended to help drive an anti-gun legislative agenda, either by way of court-mandated changes, or under the threat of complete bankruptcy for the firearm industry. During Wednesday’s House debate, anti-gun U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) suggested legislating design changes as a counter to H.R. 1036—clearly indicating the suits would likely be dropped if her ideas as to how firearms should be designed were adopted. But U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), one of the primary cosponsors of H.R. 1036, objected to the concept of reckless suits being used to promote "gun control" by way of the courts. And Rep. Sensenbrenner reminded the House that the proper procedure for someone to get rid of a product they don’t like, as anti-gun extremists are seeking to do with their reckless suits, is to introduce legislation banning that product.

With the House having taken the necessary steps to bring an end to the reckless lawsuit campaign, our utmost thanks go out to the four primary cosponsors of H.R. 1036—Reps. Cliff Stearns, Rick Boucher, Melissa Hart (R-Penn.), and Chris John (D-La.)—as well as Judiciary Chair Jim Sensenbrenner and subcommittee chair Chris Cannon for all their help in moving this critical reform forward. Now the focus of the pro-gun community must move to the U.S. Senate. And although a majority of Senators have already signed on as cosponsors of S. 659, anti-gun extremists, clearly in the minority on this issue, are threatening to filibuster this critical reform. This is clearly the only hope of the desperate gun-ban lobby, the Brady Campaign/HCI, whose meek response to the passage of H.R. 1036 was to simply state that 285 U.S. Representatives did something "shameful" by voting for the bill. HCI’s Chair, Sarah Brady, accused all 285 Representatives of having made an "awful mistake" by helping to end her organization’s efforts to drive law-abiding gun makers into bankruptcy.

It is crucial that you call both your U.S. Senators and urge them to help bring an end to predatory, meritless lawsuits designed to wipe out the firearm industry. Let your Senators know that it is critical that they support S. 659, and halt the abuse of our courts by anti-gun extremists who are trying to usurp Congressional authority with the aid of greedy trial lawyers and activist judges and juries.

You can call your U.S. Senators at (202) 224-3121. For additional contact information, use our "Write Your Representatives" tool. And for a list of Senate cosponsors of S. 659, go to the Library of Congress website.



The NRA’s Michigan Youth Education Summit (Y.E.S.) program will be held this spring in Lansing, May 22-25! This is the second year for the Michigan Y.E.S. program, and this year’s is expected to be bigger and better than the last! This year’s Michigan Y.E.S. is open to high school sophomores and juniors who meet the requirements and complete the application process. The program is a fully funded four-day scholastic leadership program in the state capital, where students will have the opportunity to learn about their state’s history, tour the Capitol and Supreme Court, meet with state Legislators, be introduced to public speaking and debating, spend time at a local range, meet other students from across the state, and make friendships that last a lifetime! One student from the Michigan Y.E.S. will be selected for an all-expense paid trip to the National Y.E.S. program at NRA Headquarters in Fairfax, Va., this June, where he or she will have the opportunity to tour Washington D.C., and compete for $20,000 in college scholarships! We are currently accepting applications for the Michigan Y.E.S. If you know of a student who could benefit from this program, please help us by telling him about this great opportunity. For more details and an application, contact Lauren Eden at NRA Headquarters today, 800-NRA-3888, ext. 1342, or via e-mail at leden@nrahq.org.



Students for the Second Amendment (SF2A)—a non-partisan, campus-based student organization that works on college and university campuses nationwide to promote our Right to Keep and Bear Arms—will host noted author John Lott on the campus of St. Mary’s University as part of its Heritage of Freedom Speaker Series. St. Mary’s is located in San Antonio, Tex., and Lott is scheduled to speak at 6:30 p.m. in the Moody Life Science Building, Room 101. Copies of John Lott’s books, "More Guns, Less Crime" and "The Bias Against Guns," will be available for purchase before and after his speech. For more information, contact SF2A Executive Director Damaso Torres at (210) 674-5559, or by e-mail at dtorres@sf2a.org.




Next week, two important pro-gun bills will be considered on the Senate floor. HB 2319 clarifies that cities and counties are prohibited from regulating the sale of firearms at gun shows in a manner inconsistent with state and federal law. HCR 2025, "Legislative Recognition of Gun Shows," encourages Congress to protect gun shows from attacks by anti-gun zealots. Please call your state senator at (602) 542-3559 and ask him to support these bills.



AB 342 was defeated on Tuesday in the State Assembly’s Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee. This legislation sought to ban the hunting of fur-bearing mammals with dogs. Please contact members of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and thank them for opposing this anti-hunting legislation. AB 992, which seeks to levy a tax of 10 cents per cartridge for all ammo sold, passed out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee. Please call the members of the State Assembly and ask them to oppose AB 992. You can find contact information for your state legislators by using our "Write Your Representatives"  tool.


On April 11, the Senate Pensions and General Laws Committee approved Right to Carry legislation by a vote of 5-3. The panel agreed to send House Bill 349, sponsored by Rep. Larry Crawford (R-117) and others, to the full Senate for consideration. A vote is expected on this legislation next week. Please call your Senator at (573) 751-3824 and ask him to support this important legislation. If you are unsure who your Senator is, you can use our "Write Your Representatives" tool to find contact information.



This week, Governor Bill Richardson (D) signed SB 23, NRA-backed Right to Carry legislation sponsored by Sen. Shannon Robinson (D-Albuquerque) and Rep. John Heaton (D-Carlsbad), making New Mexico the 34th state to provide law-abiding citizens a mechanism by which they can protect themselves in a lawful manner. Thanks to all of you who called your lawmakers and attended public hearings in support of SB 23 during session!



On a 5-3 vote this past Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB 1531, legislation that includes Tennessee among a majority of states that allows handgun permit holders to carry their firearms in restaurants and other establishments that serve alcohol. The bill now moves to the Senate floor for consideration. Please contact your senator and urge his support. On Tuesday, April 15, at noon, the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Constitutional Protections will hear four critical pro-gun bills: HB 1710, the House counterpart of SB 1531; HB 452, which would require Tennessee to honor a handgun carry permit issued by any other state; HB 1622, which would revise the handgun carry permit law to specify that minor misdemeanor offenders are not prohibited from applying for permits; and HB 1615, which would authorize the public to use law enforcement ranges under certain conditions. Please call subcommittee members and request their support of these four bills. You can find contact information for your state legislators by using the "Write Your Representatives" tool at www.NRAILA.org. Also, if you live in Senate District 12, be sure to get out and vote in the special election on Tuesday, April 15, which will decide who will be your next State Senator. Call NRA-ILA Grassroots at 1-800-392-8683 to get more information on the election.



SB 5910, Shooting Range Protection, is pending action on the House floor. Please call your Representatives and urge that the bill be brought up for consideration and to support SB 5910 in a floor vote. You can find contact information for your state legislators by using our "Write Your Representatives" tool.



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.