PROTECTION OF LAWFUL COMMERCE IN ARMS ACT--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - July 27, 2005)
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Mr. DAYTON. Mr. President, I am one Member, along with a number of my colleagues, who believes we should be debating not this gun liability bill but the Department of Defense authorization bill for the coming fiscal year. I serve on that committee. It was a good bipartisan effort. I was planning to offer an amendment to add $120 million for childcare and family support for the families of reservists and National Guard men and women who are called to active duty. Others had amendments, including one regarding BRAC, of particular note to me and others in Minnesota affected by that process.
But we are not on that bill. Instead, we are dealing with the most special interest legislation I have encountered in my 4 1/2 years in the Senate. We are going to leave at the end of this week for a month and we have one last window of opportunity to take up what presumably would be the most important measure before the Nation and the Senate. Instead, we get this special interest bill.
We are not on stem cell legislation that would allow us to create a medically and scientifically based framework to protect the sanctity of human life or prohibit cloning, and yet still allow medical research that could save many thousands of lives for years to come. That is not the Republican leadership's top priority.
Nor is the constitutional amendment to prohibit the burning or desecration of the American flag, of which I am a proud cosponsor, brought to the Senate. In my 4 1/2 years in the Senate, not once has the leader brought that measure to the Senate for an up-or-down vote by the Senate. Evidently it won't happen this week, either, because, again, that does not rate as a top priority.
No, according to the Republican leadership, the most important issue facing America and earning the most urgent attention of the Senate is the supposed need to give special immunity from the standards for negligence and product liability that apply to all other businesses and all other products. When this legislation passes, and it will pass with ease, because the NRA, National Rifle Association, has the money and the political clout to get whatever it wants around here, no matter how unnecessary, unfair, or ill advised it is, this bill will soon become the law of the land.
One of its findings is:
(7) The liability actions commenced or contemplated by the Federal Government, States, municipalities, and private interest groups and others are based on theories without foundation and hundreds of years of 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 rights, privileges and immunities guaranteed to a citizen of the United States under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
It goes on to say one of the purposes is to preserve a citizen's access to a supply of firearms and ammunition for all lawful purposes, something I certainly support.
It goes on to say the purpose is to protect the right under the first amendment of the Constitution of manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms or ammunition products, and trade associations to speak freely, to assemble peacefully, and to petition the Government for redress of their grievances.
This legislation is supposedly necessary to protect the first amendment rights of people in the lawful business of manufacturing, distributing, or selling firearm and buying the same.
In the manufactured hysteria of this fabricated
crisis, the Government or a maverick judicial officer or a petit jury evidently is threatening to violate the first amendment, the second amendment, and the 14th amendment rights of all gun manufacturers, distributors, and dealers in the United States of America. What utter nonsense. But if the National Rifle Association says the sky is green and the grass is blue, the majority of Congress will run for the paint.
I strongly support the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I am a gun owner myself and a hunter. This bill does not benefit gun owners or hunters, who are most of the NRA members. They are being used to give special favors and special treatment to someone's special friends and someone's big contributors.
Last year, according to industry data, there were over 1.3 million handguns sold in the United States. That is just handguns. Sales totaled $605 million. The sales of rifles and shotguns last year totaled $1 billion. The number of long guns sold was not available, but simple math puts that number well over 2 million rifles and shotguns sold in the United States last year.
Given that volume of sales and weapons available, can anyone believe any law-abiding American's constitutional right to lawfully purchase and own as many guns as he or she wants is being endangered? What nonsense. Absolute nonsense.
Our major gun manufacturers are certainly not in danger. Smith and Wesson's most recent annual report showed net product sales of $118 million last year, an increase of almost 20 percent over the previous year.
Sturm, Ruger and Company on July 20 of this year reported net sales for the 6 months ended June 30, 2005 as $78.7 million, an 8-percent increase over 2004, and the chief executive stated firearm unit shipments in the second quarter increased 11 percent from the prior year due to strong demand.
This is not an industry being hounded out of business. Would the industry like to rid itself of all lawsuits stemming from products and sales? Of course, and so would every other industry and company in America. I am not here to defend our Nation's litigation practices, which are often excessive and sometimes even extreme, but whatever so-called reforms are made should apply to everyone. Gun manufacturers and dealers are not the only people who make and sell potentially dangerous products or products that can be used illegally and misused. And
judges and juries are not indiscriminately finding against gun manufacturers. Most are probably gun owners and hunters as well.
Despite what the NRA pedals to its members to justify its existence and their dues, the second amendment is accepted and respected by the overwhelming majority of Americans and there is no threat to responsible manufacturers, dealers, lawful buyers, or owners of the millions of guns in America. There is no justification for this special legislation and the special treatment it gives to that industry.
Of course, the gun industry is accustomed to getting special treatment from Congress. Firearms and tobacco are the only two consumer products specifically exempt from regulation by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. What an exemption. I have to hand it to the NRA, whether I agree with them or not, they sure know how to operate around here. Many industries and even individual corporations pour a lot more money into lobbying and into political contributions than the NRA and they do not get nearly the special treatment, special favors from Congress the gun lobby does--a complete exemption from consumer product safety laws and regulations, and now almost complete immunity for lawsuits from negligence or product malfunctions. All other businesses and industries in America are in discount coach while the gun lobby has special privileges flying first class on Air America under this Congress and preceding Congresses.
It is because there is that exemption from the consumer product safety laws of this country that some of these lawsuits, not frivolous, but determined by a judge or jury through the process to be legitimate and bona fide, and the resulting civil damages are necessary to move the industry to take some of the safety actions it can technologically and financially certainly afford to make that it probably would not do otherwise.
For example, take Bushmaster. Their dealer lost the sniper's assault rifle along with 238 other guns that were then used by the snipers against the innocent victims in Washington, DC. As a result of its settlement with the victims of those families, they agreed also to inform their dealers of safer sales practices that hopefully will prevent other criminals from obtaining the guns, something that had never been done before.
In June of 2004, two former New Jersey police officers were shot in the line of duty with a trafficked gun negligently sold by a West Virginia dealer. They won a $1 million settlement, and the dealer who sold the gun, along with 11 other handguns in a cash sale to a straw buyer for a gun trafficker--after that lawsuit that dealer, as well as two other area pawnshops, agreed to implement safer practices to prevent sales to traffickers, including a policy of ending large-volume sales of handguns.
In 2004 also, Tennille Jefferson, whose 7-year-old son was unintentionally killed by another child with a trafficked gun, won a settlement from a gun dealer that amounted to $850,000. The handgun was one of many the dealer sold to the trafficker despite clear signs the guns were headed for the underground market. That, too, resulted in changes in policies and sales practices that hopefully will prevent other mothers from suffering that terrible fate of losing a child.
I am not saying every one of those cases filed against the manufacturers or dealers is proper. Again, that is for the process to determine. But there is no evidence, no evidence at all, that there is anything about the nature of these suits, the outcomes of them, the jury awards relative to the damages that have occurred, that indicates this industry is being prejudiced or plagued by those who they contrive to be doing so, to justify this legislation. If we are going to reform the tort system in this country, let's do it openly and aboveboard with all industries, all of American businesses affected equally by those changes.
To single out one industry, particularly one that manufacturers products, potentially, as dangerous as guns, is just a terrible day for the Senate.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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