PROTECTION OF LAWFUL COMMERCE IN ARMS ACT -- (Senate - July 29, 2005)
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I express my strong appreciation to the Senator from Rhode Island, Mr. Reed, for his leadership in opposition to this legislation. It has been enormously impressive. Many of us who share his views are grateful for his steadfastness, his hard work, and his perseverance and commitment.
It is preposterous to call this bill the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. If we were honest, we would call it the ``Protection of Unlawful Commerce in Arms Act.'' It is a blatant special interest bill to protect gun manufacturers and sellers, even if they recklessly make guns available to criminals and terrorists. This aids and abets the perpetuation of these crimes. With all the urgent challenges facing our country, it is difficult to believe that the Bush administration and the Republican leadership are willing to spend any time at all on this flagrant anti-victim, anti-law-enforcement legislation, let alone push aside the major Defense authorization bill to make room for this debate.
President Bush called for clean passage of the bill without extending the Federal ban on assault weapons, without closing the gun show loophole, and without any other needed reforms in our Nation's laws.
Instead of this special interest legislation, Congress should be considering important bills, such as Senator Feinstein's proposal to regulate .50 caliber weapons. These weapons are particularly dangerous because of their appeal to terrorists. These rifles can shoot down airplanes and destroy armored vehicles. These bullets can even penetrate several inches of steel. They have been called the ideal tools for terrorists. Who are we kidding?
In 1995, a RAND Corporation report identified these weapons as a serious threat to the security of U.S. Air Force bases. In 2003, a U.S. Army intelligence training handbook called this rifle a weapon ``attractive to terrorists for use in assassinations.'' Snipers love them. A study funded by the Department of Homeland Security identified these rifles as an imminent threat to civilian aviation. The report noted that these weapons have been acquired by al-Qaida and even been used to attack our own troops in Iraq.
Barrett Firearms Manufacturing and E.D.M. Arms advertise these assault weapons as capable of destroying multimillion-dollar aircraft with a single hit. Every bullet sold for these weapons puts our troops at risk. But are we working to stop that? No. Instead we are, once again, debating a bill that threatens the safety of the American people in a way that undermines law enforcement and our national security. Instead we are guaranteeing that people who sell these rifles and ammunition will never be held liable for their crimes.
With its raw special interest power, the National Rifle Association has demonstrated that this bill is a top priority for Senate action. They could care less that they are interrupting the important business of protecting our men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are willing to let unsavory gun dealers and gun manufacturers put powerful killing machines in the hands of criminals and terrorists without any regulation or liability. It is a national disgrace that America does more to regulate the safety of toy guns than real guns.
The Republican leadership and the Bush administration will do whatever it takes to give the industry all it wants. The NRA wants gun dealers and manufacturers to be protected from lawsuits. The NRA expects and demands that the Senate take away the courts as the last resort for victims of gun violence. For years the courts have been the only place where negligent and often conspiring gun dealers and manufacturers can be challenged.
The Senate majority leader says this bill is of urgent importance, taking precedence over the Defense bill because the Department of Defense ``faces the real prospect of having to outsource sidearms for our soldiers to foreign manufacturers.'' Guess what. The bulk of contracts to arm our country's military and law enforcement is already held by foreign manufacturers based in Austria, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Jordan, and Belgium. Lawsuits have nothing to do with that.
Furthermore, we have not heard one single company filing for bankruptcy in the absence of this legislation. The truth is that gun industry profits are on the rise. The only two publicly held gun companies in this country have filed recent statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission specifically and emphatically contradicting the claim that they are threatened by lawsuits.
Smith & Wesson filed a statement with the SEC, June 29, 2005, 1 month ago, stating: We expect net product sales for fiscal 2005 to be approximately $124 million, a 5-percent increase over the $117 million reported for fiscal 2004. Firearms sales for fiscal 2005 are expected to increase by 11 percent over the fiscal 2004 level.
In another filing, dated March 10, 2005, Smith & Wesson wrote: In the 9 months ended January 31, 2005, we incurred $4,500 in legal defense costs.
Legal defense costs of $4,500 are supposed to be bankrupting the company? Let's get real.
At the same time, gun manufacturer Sturm, Rugr told the SEC in a March 1, 2005, filing: It is not probable and it is unlikely that litigation, including punitive damage claims, will have a material adverse effect on the financial position of the company.
We have to wonder what the real agenda is here. The level of litigation against gun manufacturers and dealers is miniscule. In a 10-year period, only 57 suits were filed against gun industry defendants out of an estimated 10 million tort suits in America. We are supposed to buy the claim that these lawsuits are unduly burdening the gun industry. No. This legislation is another in a long line of congressional paybacks to the NRA, to the severe detriment of the safety of the American people. The gun lobby has systematically made it more difficult and, in some cases, even impossible for the government to police negligent gun dealers and manufacturers, while making it easier for criminals to buy guns.
Under the Brady bill, a licensed seller of firearms must run a background check through the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. But at the NRA's demand, Congress drastically narrowed the definition of gun dealer. Reckless and unlicensed dealers are now selling millions of guns to people, including criminals and terrorists, without background checks. All of that is legal because the U.S. Congress kowtowed to the National Rifle Association.
We have a shameless proposal before the Senate today
that shields even the most reckless sales in the gun industry. This bill will even protect manufacturers that promote military-style weapons for use in battle in urban scenarios against any foe at any range. It protects manufacturers who brag about their weapons of war and spread them to our streets.
Look at this advertisement from Vulcan. ``Vulcan Armament, the weapons of the special forces. From Afghanistan to Iraq, the guns of the special forces are now on sale in America.''
All you need is a credit card. Call that company and you get that weapon. It is being used by special forces in Iraq. Do you think this bill has anything to do with protecting Americans from that? Absolutely not.
The gun dealer claims: ``From Afghanistan to Iraq, the guns of the special forces are now on sale ..... '' How outrageous can dealers get? But the NRA demands that these sales continue to be unregulated. Credit card, computer, you get your sniper rifle used by the special forces. And are we doing anything about that? Absolutely not.
Congress continues to do their bidding as it has done for years. At the insistence of the NRA, Congress has already tied the hands of law enforcement by cutting Federal funding for the agency that overseas gun dealers and manufacturers. According to the GAO, at the current level of underfunding, the ATF would take 22 years to inspect every gun dealer just once. What kind of enforcement is that? The GAO also tells us that people on the terrorist watch list are routinely buying guns in this country. Under current law, terrorists are not prohibited buyers. At the urging of the NRA, Congress is doing nothing about it. If that weren't enough, under this bill, gun manufacturers and sellers will be exempt from lawsuits even if they sell weapons to terrorists.
I have a GAO report that shows that there were 45 instances where the GAO found firearms-related background checks handled by the FBI resulted in valid matches with terrorist watch list records. Of this total, 35 transactions were allowed to proceed. If they get on the list, they are supposed to notify Homeland Security. But in this case, 35 transactions were allowed to proceed because the background checks found no prohibiting information. What does that mean? The prohibiting information are the categories that would deny them the ability to sell these weapons. For example, if you have had a felony conviction, you can't sell them; illegal immigration, you can't sell them; domestic violence, you can't sell them.
Member of a terrorist organization? You can sell them. Do you think this bill is doing anything about that? Do you think we are doing anything about that? No. It is disgraceful. Absolutely disgraceful.
We already know the terrorists are exploiting the weaknesses and loopholes in the Nation's gun laws. In the caves of Afghanistan our troops found an al-Qaida manual that instructed terrorists on how to buy guns legally in the United States without having to undergo a background check. Al-Qaida understands that we have created a mess that allows, even encourages, criminals and terrorists to traffic in guns.
Why do we in this body continue to ignore it? We are not talking about some hypothetical situation. In 2000, a member of a terrorist group in the Middle East was convicted in Detroit on weapons charges and conspiracy to ship weapons and ammunition to Lebanon. He had bought many of these weapons at gun shows in Michigan. In 1999, only a lack of cash prevented two persons from purchasing a grenade launcher at a gun show in a plot to blow up two large propane tanks in suburban Sacramento. But instead of addressing these real and serious problems, the Senate is considering this outrageous immunity bill that even gives the gun industry protection from administrative proceedings to revoke licenses of dealers who sell to illegal buyers.
This bill will bar State attorneys general from bringing civil actions against gun sellers, even those engaged in so-called straw sales to middlemen who buy guns from prohibited buyers. Why should the industry stop there? At the demand of the NRA, Congress has already exempted the gun industry from Federal consumer safety regulation. But the NRA wants more. It is a disgrace.
The NRA has also persuaded our Government to destroy gun purchasing background records within 24 hours. Our Justice Department refused to examine the gun records of any of the 19 hijackers or 1,200 suspected terrorists rounded up after 9/11. We can know everything about law-abiding citizens in this country, but we can't know about the terrorists purchasing these weapons. Within days of 9/11, we knew who the hijackers were, where they sat on the planes. We saw some of their faces on surveillance videos. We knew what they had charged on their credit cards. We knew where they had gone to school. We knew where they lived, where they traveled. We knew they had tried to get pilot's licenses. We knew they had looked for a way to transport hazardous chemicals. But we didn't know whether our terrorist friends had purchased firearms because we were worried about their privacy rights and their right to bear arms.
Give me a break. Give me a break. Make no mistake, Mr. President, the National Rifle Association clearly comes first in this Senate Republican agenda. This is not just about the immunity bill on the floor today. If this bill passes, it will open the floodgates for NRA's other priorities. None of these priorities will protect our citizens or make this country safer. Designed by the NRA, it promotes the sale of guns by manufacturers if they are sold to criminals. The NRA is lavishly rewarded for lobbying victories, and so are the Members of Congress who do their bidding.
This is an unholy alliance, Mr. President. This bill gives greater protection to the gun industry than Congress has given to any industry, and it is a dangerous precedent. At a minimum, we owe a duty to the police officers who are more in jeopardy because of the increasing number of dangerous weapons and ammunition in the hands of criminals. The Treasury Department already has regulations containing some prohibitions on armor-piercing ammunition. My amendment would expand the ban on that. It can easily be sold over the Internet, no questions asked. That is a disgrace and danger to police officers throughout the Nation.
The NRA would have us believe cop-killer bullets are a myth, they don't exist. Try to tell that to some of the sellers on eBay. Here you go, Mr. President. This chart represents what is on eBay. All you need is one click of the computer, and you can buy these bullets on eBay--armor-piercing bullets. They are $15 on eBay, armor-piercing bullets.
Now let's look at what has happened in the last year, in 2004. The number of police officers killed was 54, and 32 of these officers were wearing body armor. The only bullet that can pierce the armor is the cop-killer bullet. That is what this amendment addresses, the cop-killer bullet. It will stop the sale of the cop-killer bullet. These are the types of armor-piercing ammunition. All you have to do is look at these words, ``hardened steel or tungsten carbide.'' Any terrorist knows what that means. Put those words together, and it goes right through a police officer's armored vest. We have had 54 police officers killed in the line of duty; 32 were wearing body armor.
This is the FBI report of May 16, 2005. I ask unanimous consent that it be printed in the RECORD.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
FBI Preliminary Statistics Show 54 Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed in 2004
WASHINGTON, D.C.--Fifty-four law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2004, according to preliminary statistics released today by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. Nearly half of the officers killed, 26, were in the South; 9 officers were in the Midwest; 9 were in the West; and 7 were in the Northeast. Two were in Puerto Rico, and 1 was in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The number of officers killed was up 2 from the 52 officers killed in 2003.
The 54 officer deaths occurred during 47 different incidents. Police cleared 46 out of the 47 incidents by arrest or exceptional means. One offender is still at large. Of the officers killed, 16 died in arrest situations, 12 died responding to disturbance calls, 7 died investigating suspicious persons or circumstances, 6 were ambushed, and 6 more were killed in traffic pursuits or stops. Two officers were killed while handling mentally deranged persons, 2 died while involved in investigative activities, 2 died in tactical situations, and 1 died handling and transporting a prisoner.
As in previous years, most offenders used firearms to kill police officers in 2004. Of the 52 officers who died from gunshot wounds, 36 were fatally injured with handguns, 12 were shot with rifles, and 4 were killed with shotguns. Offenders used vehicles to kill 2 officers. Thirty-two officers were wearing body armor, 11 fired their own weapons, and 9 attempted to fire their own weapons. Seven of the officers had their service weapons stolen, and 6 were killed with their own weapons.
In addition to the officers feloniously killed, 82 law enforcement officers died accidentally in the performance of their duties in 2004. This is an increase of 1 over the 2003 total of 81 officers killed accidentally.
The UCR Program's publication, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 2004, is scheduled to be released in the fall. The publication, produced annually, includes final statistics and complete details.
Mr. KENNEDY. That is what this amendment does. Nobody can deny that our policemen and policewomen face a greater threat every day from these armor-piercing weapons and bullets that remain in our community. It is outrageous and unconscionable that such ammunition continues to be sold in the United States.
Mr. President, victims of gun violence and their families oppose this underlying legislation. I wish to mention the organizations that support my amendment. The International Brotherhood of Police Officers, the National Black Police Association, the Hispanic American Police Command Officers, the National Latino Police Officers, and the Major City Chiefs Association representing the Nation's largest police departments all support this amendment.
If you are interested in the security of those who are protecting us on the streets and in our communities and in our homes across this Nation, support my amendment, not a phony amendment that will be put on by the other side.
I withhold my time.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I have in my hand the Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide that bans 14 different types of ammunition today. All we are trying to do is add a 15th. What will the 15th do? It will be limited to cop-killer bullets.
My friends, the Republican amendment says we should study the problem of cop-killer bullets. Our police officers are the ones that are in the line of fire, and we are going to protect them with a study?
If you care about fighting terrorism, you will reject the Republican amendment and vote for my amendment to take real action. If you care about protecting our brave police officers, you will support my amendment. They risk their lives for us every single day.
This is not about hunting. We know duck and geese and deer do not wear armor vests; police officers do. This can save their lives. I hope it will be accepted.
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