PROTECTION OF LAWFUL COMMERCE IN ARMS ACT -- (House of Representatives - October 20, 2005)
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Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, some of my constituents have let me know they disagreed with my past vote against similar legislation. They asked me to take a closer look and consider voting for this bill today, and I promised to do so.
However, after careful review of the bill and consideration of points raised by its supporters and opponents, I have concluded that I cannot in good conscience vote for it.
I voted against similar legislation in the past because I was not convinced there was a need for Congress to take such action to restrict certain lawsuits against the manufacturers and sellers of firearms. And I still am not convinced that the potential adverse consequences of those lawsuits are so great that Congress should close the courthouse door to people who think they have valid claims.
And, as in the past, I am particularly reluctant to support legislation that would go further than barring future lawsuits by requiring the immediate dismissal of cases under active consideration by the courts. It seems to me that this is a dangerous precedent for the legislative branch to undertake, and the courts are in a much better position than Congress to decide whether the people who have brought those pending cases have valid claims or whether their complaints are frivolous or malicious.
It happens that this bill deals with lawsuits against firearms manufacturers. But this concern about changing the legal rules to prohibit further consideration of active cases (as opposed to pending ones) would be the same for similar lawsuits against the makers or sellers of other consumer products that are inherently dangerous, if not lethal, when misused--for example, automobiles and electronic devices.
And, while the bill before us--which has already passed the Senate--differs in some respects from versions we have considered before, it too would apply to pending cases.
At the very least the House should have been able to debate and decide on possible changes to the bill. But that did not happen, because the Republican leadership insisted on bringing the bill to the floor under restrictive procedures that essentially barred any amendments from being offered. I strongly object to this way of considering such legislation.
Most of the debate about this bill has been about its significance for firearms manufacturers--and, if the bill dealt only with manufacturers, I might have come to a different conclusion about the need for liability protection. But the provisions related to sellers or other distributors--provisions that are equally or more important--are another matter.
I also think we should at least debate and consider whether reducing the deterrent effect of potential liability might increase the chance that firearms could knowingly or negligently be transferred to criminals or terrorists. I think the seriousness of this is illustrated by the report of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicating that last year alone there were at last 56 times when people the federal government considered known or suspected terrorists attempted to purchase firearms.
It's true that under current law, even actual--let alone suspected--membership in a terrorist organization, by itself, is enough to bar someone from purchasing a firearm. But instead of considering a possible change to this part of current law, today we are debating whether the law should be changed to reduce, not strengthen, the legal deterrents to such purchases.
Mr. Speaker, I know that litigation can be costly, and I am not in favor of frivolous lawsuits. Nor am I in favor of banning gun ownership or abolishing the domestic gun manufacturing industry. Earlier this year, for example, I voted against an amendment that would have banned the export of certain American firearms overseas. And since the House last considered similar legislation I have also undertaken a deeper review of Second Amendment concerns and my staff and I have met with thoughtful and enthusiastic Coloradans (like my good friend Rick Reeser) who feel differently about the implications and desirability of this legislation. I have also had many informative conversations with many Colorado sportsmen and women, including some of my staff who make a compelling case that gun ownership is not just a question of legal rights but also about respecting and preserving a critical component of individual liberty. I embrace this view and respect their concerns and acknowledge the need for a less divisive debate about the preserving Second Amendment rights.
But, after a careful reading of the provisions of this legislation and the most objective review that I can make of the arguments for and against its enactment, I still think we in the Congress should leave it to the courts to decide which of the lawsuits covered by this bill are frivolous and which are not. For all these reasons, and especially because we were not even permitted to consider any changes, I cannot support this legislation.
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