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Public Statements

Providing for Consideration of S. 397, Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


PROVIDING FOR CONSIDERATION OF S. 397, PROTECTION OF LAWFUL COMMERCE IN ARMS ACT -- (House of Representatives - October 18, 2005)

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Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Gingrey) for yielding me this time, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, I rise today in strong opposition to this closed rule and the underlying legislation. My friends in the majority are again bringing to the floor a rule that blocks debate in the body before it begins. Under this rule not one Member of the House, Republican or Democrat, is permitted to offer an amendment. Under this rule and under this bill, the gun lobby is rewarded while public safety is thwarted.

A few examples: The gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Van Hollen) and the gentleman from California (Mr. Waxman) offered an amendment last night that prohibits suspected and known terrorists from purchasing firearms. That was not made in order. The gentlewoman from New York (Mrs. McCarthy), my good friend who will speak on this issue later, had an amendment that expands existing prohibitions on armor-piercing bullets to include those bullets capable of piercing body armor. And the gentlewoman from California (Ms. LINDA SÁNCHEZ) offered an amendment that permits courts to hear suits based on the sale of weapons to persons with domestic convictions.

Under this rule, however, not one of these amendments, or any of the five other commonsense amendments offered by Democrats in the Committee on Rules last night, will be given any consideration by the full House.

Madam Speaker, our government was built on the foundation of an open and transparent participatory process. Yet, since 1994, when Republicans regained control of the House; I might add, Republicans that argued against closed rules, participation has been limited to only those who share their beliefs.

The underlying legislation, which dismisses existing lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers and prohibits the filing of future suits, is not sound public policy. On the contrary, it is outright political grandstanding.

During the last 3 years, more than 34 government entities have filed valid lawsuits against gun manufacturers, distributors, and trade associations. At the beginning of 2005, 18 of those suits had won favorable rulings, while only a handful had been dismissed. The remaining cases are still in court, and I gather that this legislation contemplates eliminating those citizens' rights to be in court.

In fact, several State appeals and supreme courts have also ruled that gun manufacturers and dealers can be held liable for the reasonably foreseeable use of firearms for criminal purposes. Settlements from these cases have forced gun manufacturers to make necessary safety modifications that the industry had previously refused to do. How many times do we have to see a baby with a gun in its hand or at its head or killing some member of the family before we get to safety modifications?

The ruling in the D.C. sniper case forced the gun manufacturer Bushmaster to inform its dealers of safer sales practices that will prevent other criminals from obtaining guns, something that Bushmaster had never done before. Other rulings have resulted in major crackdowns on ``straw purchases,'' where legally purchased guns are resold to individuals unable to lawfully purchase a weapon on their own. In each of these instances, it is beyond fair to say that they were not frivolous lawsuits. Yet, if the underlying legislation becomes law, when the cases are heard then none of them would have even been filed.

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Perhaps my friends in the majority can help me understand what is so unreasonable in requiring an industry that produces a product with the sole purpose of killing to take the necessary precautions to protect public safety, and is it our belief that the American judicial system is incapable of properly dismissing lawsuits that are both unreasonable and overzealous? They do it all the time.

Let us be honest and call this bill and this debate what they really are: legislative abuse, with closed rules and a political charade. Republicans are using the legislative process in an attempt to penalize attorneys and trial lawyers, historically supporters of Democrats, who hold the gun lobby, a major campaign contributor to my friends in the majority, accountable for its actions.

The majority's reckless disregard for judicial integrity mocks our Constitution's separation of powers doctrine. Dangerously, it does so at the expense of American safety.

I implore my colleagues to reject this rule and the underlying legislation, and I would say to my good friend, the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Gingrey), that I know of nothing in my makeup that would cause me at any point in time to want to do anything in derogation of the rights of American citizens under the United States Constitution. The second amendment, the right to own a gun, is everybody's right. But manufacturers ought not be manufacturing guns that are not safe and are poorly manufactured, and nobody should be protecting them at all.

Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I would urge my colleague that just spoke that the many people that I know, and they are numerous in my State and elsewhere that were killed by guns and are advocates against guns, are not fanatics. They are people who are victims of murder.

Additionally, I thought I made it clear, I wish to make it clear again, that insofar as the second amendment is concerned, everyone that I know in this body is protective of a person's right to own a gun.

The fact of the matter is that manufacturers who act irresponsibly should be sued by persons if they so choose when that harm comes to them.

Mr. Speaker, I yield 6 minutes to the gentlewoman from New York (Mrs. McCarthy).

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Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, just in case people think that it is only those of us who believe in our legal system that are opposed to this particular measure, I have in hand a letter from law enforcement's opposition to H.R. 800, and here is what it says:

``Dear Representative: As active and retired law enforcement officers, we are writing to urge your strong opposition to any legislation granting the gun industry special legal immunity. The bill would strip away the legal rights of gun violence victims, including law enforcement officers and their families, to seek redress against irresponsible gun dealers and manufacturers. The impact of this bill on the law enforcement community is well illustrated by the lawsuit brought by former Orange New Jersey police officers Ken McGuire and David Lemongello.''

I gather that their lawsuit would be dismissed as frivolous.

``On January 12, 2001, Officers McGuire and Lemongello were shot in the line of duty with a trafficked gun negligently sold by a West Virginia dealer. The dealer had sold the gun, along with 11 other guns, in a cash sale to a straw buyer for a gun trafficker. In June of 2004, the officers obtained a $1 million settlement from the dealer. The dealer, as well as two other area pawn shops also, have implemented safer practices to prevent sales to traffickers, including a new policy of ending large volume sales of handguns. These reforms go beyond the requirement of current law and are not imposed by any manufacturers or distributors.

``If immunity,'' this is what the law enforcement community, some of them say, ``if immunity for the gun industry had been enacted, the officers' case would have been thrown out of court and justice would have been denied. Police officers like Officers McGuire and Lemongello put their lives on the line every day to protect the public. Instead of honoring them for their service, legislation granting immunity to the gun industry would deprive them of their basic rights as American citizens to prove their case in a court of law. We stand with Officers McGuire and Lemongello in urging you to oppose this legislation.''

It is signed by the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, The Police Foundation, the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, chiefs of police from New Jersey, Ohio, Massachusetts, Nevada, California, New York, North Carolina, Maine, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Rhode Island, and Kansas and Virginia and countless others that time will not permit me to add.

If police officers who are out there protecting us cannot find the protection in this House of Representatives from bullets or armor-piercing bullets, and we are going to protect people who manufacture that stuff from having legal suits brought against them, some that may be dismissed, some that may be won, some that may be lost but it is an American right, just like that second amendment is an American right that I will go to my grave believing in, but I will go with these police officers in believing that it is wrong to deny people an opportunity to take their matter to court and have it decided appropriately by a court of law and juries of their peers who are all 435 of our constituents.

In addition to what is wrong is this system is wrong. When you close out amendments that would allow people to have an opportunity to come down here on the floor of the House of Representatives and represent their constituents, this is a closed rule; and I urge my colleagues to vote against this closed rule.

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