Congress Moves Closer to Banning Gun-Liability Suits Congress concludes work on a bill to ban lawsuits filed by victims of gun violence against weapons manufacturers and dealers. The gun industry has been trying to end such suits since the 1990s.

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Congress Moves Closer to Banning Gun-Liability Suits

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Today the House of Representatives approved legislation that gives the gun industry immunity from most liability lawsuits. Passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act gives the National Rifle Association and other gun groups their second major victory in Congress; the ban on assault weapons was allowed to expire last year. The bill the House passed today has already cleared the Senate, so it goes right to President Bush. As NPR's Larry Abramson reports, once the president signs the bill, it could quickly put an end to a number of lawsuits by cities and shooting victims.

LARRY ABRAMSON reporting:

Republicans were almost unanimously united behind this bill. Cliff Stearns of Florida returned to an analogy that has become a classic in the debate over whether to allow lawsuits against the gun industry.

Representative CLIFF STEARNS (Republican, Florida): Would you hold a car company responsible if a driver gets drunk or reckless and hits somebody with a vehicle? Of course not.

ABRAMSON: So, Stearns argued, gun makers and gun dealers should not be held liable if someone goes on a shooting spree with a weapon that was made and sold legally. House Judiciary Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner said gun control advocates had only turned to lawsuits out of desperation.

Representative JAMES SENSENBRENNER (Republican, Wisconsin): Lawsuits seeking to hold the firearms industry responsible for the criminal and unlawful use of its products are brazen attempts to accomplish through litigation what has not been achieved by legislation in the democratic process.

ABRAMSON: Sensenbrenner said the bill has exceptions for dealers or manufacturers who break the law or help provide guns to killer. But gun control groups say it would be nearly impossible to bring any liability suits related to a gun crime once the legislation is signed by President Bush. Democrat Marty Meehan of Massachusetts said, for example, the measure would block a pending suit by survivors of Danny Guzman, a resident of Worcester who was shot to death in 1999.

Representative MARTY MEEHAN (Democrat, Massachusetts): That gun that killed him made its way into criminal hands because a gun factory employee had stolen it from his workplace and sold it on the black market.

ABRAMSON: In the Senate, opponents of the measure had tried to pass an amendment that would allow for suits in cases of gross negligence by a dealer or gun maker, but it failed. During today's House debate, Republican leaders stopped any amendments to the bill, leaving Democrats like Sam Farr of California sputtering.

Representative SAM FARR (Democrat, California): One of those amendments would have expanded the ban on armor-piercing bullets. For God's sake, who in this country needs to own armor-piercing bullets?

ABRAMSON: Republicans knew any such amendments might cause the National Rifle Association to drop its support for the legislation.

The GOP had 59 Democrats to thank for the bill's overwhelming passage. They came from areas with strong support for hunting, like southwestern Virginia, home to Congressman Rick Boucher, who fears lawsuits could drive the industry out of the US.

Representative RICK BOUCHER (Democrat, Virginia): The vast majority of gun owners use their firearms responsibly. They should not be restricted in their future purchases because the threat of lawsuits has rendered the American market economically unattractive for the manufacturers.

ABRAMSON: Opponents of the legislation scoffed at the idea that the industry would be litigated into extinction, citing financial statements showing that manufacturers are not worried about the impact of lawsuits. But in a week when the House passed legislation to protect the food industry against litigation by overeaters, the momentum was moving against so-called frivolous lawsuits. Democrat Chris Van Hollen from Maryland tried to argue in vain that the gun industry does not deserve such protection.

Representative CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (Democrat, Maryland): It provides a shield to an industry that should be providing a standard of care at least equal to other industries and businesses. Why do we want to make the gun industry to most protected industry in America?

ABRAMSON: President Bush today praised Congress for passing the law and said he looks forward to signing it. Gun control advocates say they plan a legal challenge. Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.

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