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Location: Washington, DC



Mr. HATCH. Thank you, Mr. President. I rise in strong support of S. 397, the gun liability bill.

Now, this legislation is a necessary response to the growing problem of junk lawsuits filed, no doubt, in part with the intention of driving the firearms industry out of business.

These ill-advised suits attempt to hold manufacturers and dealers liable for the criminal acts of third parties, actions totally beyond the control of the manufacturer. These types of lawsuits continue to be filed in multiple States, seeking a vast array of remedies concerning the marketing of guns and alleged design flaws. And they continue to be flawed.

The White House, in its Statement of Administration Policy, summarized the current problem well. This is what they said:

The possibility of imposing liability on an entire industry for harm that is solely caused by others is an abuse of the legal system, erodes public confidence in our Nation's laws, threatens the diminution of a basic constitutional right and civil liberty, sets a poor precedent for other lawful industries, will cause a loss of jobs, and burdens interstate and foreign commerce.

That is a heck of a good statement because that is exactly what will happen if we allow these types of suits to continue.

This bill does nothing more than prohibit--with five exceptions--lawsuits against manufacturers or sellers of guns and ammunition for damages ``resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse'' of nondefective guns and ammunition.

Now, let me repeat that: ``resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse'' of nondefective guns and ammunition.

This bill is not a license for the gun industry to act irresponsibly. If a manufacturer or seller does not operate entirely within Federal or State law, it is not entitled to the protection of this legislation.

Listen to a few comments from one judge who dismissed some of these suits. In Ohio, a judge dismissed a gun liability lawsuit, and the court of appeals affirmed this decision saying:

to do otherwise would open a Pandora's box. For example, the city could sue manufacturers of matches for arson, or automobile manufacturers for traffic accidents, or breweries for drunk driving.

Now, there is no reason the gunmakers should have to continue to defend these types of meritless lawsuits. We must protect against the potential harm to interstate commerce here. The gun industry has already had to bear over $200 million in defense costs thus far.

That is ridiculous. It is immoral. It is wrong.

This legislation is not without precedent. In the 106th Congress, legislation was introduced to address the possibility of junk lawsuits related to the Y2K computer problems. This bill sought to ``lessen the burdens on interstate commerce by discouraging insubstantial lawsuits.'' It sought to do so by preempting State law to provide a uniform standard for such suits. This bill merely seeks the same type of remedy using the same reasoning.

In the past, some have thrown out red herrings arguing against this bill and suggesting that negligent entrustment will be immunized. This is pure bunk. It is untrue. That argument doesn't deserve to see the light of day. Those who make it ought to be ashamed of themselves. The bill provides an explicit exception for anyone who supplies a gun to someone they reasonably should have known was likely to use that gun in a way that would injure another person.

Let me state that again. The bill provides an explicit exception for anyone who supplies a gun to someone they reasonably should have known was likely to use the gun in a way that would injure another person. The bottom line is that this is a reasonable measure to prevent a growing abuse of our civil justice system. We have had far too many abuses of that system. This is a chance for Members of this body to stand up and do something about it.

If we allow these kinds of suits to go forward with guns, then what is next? Holding manufacturers of knives responsible for stabbings? Holding manufacturers of baseball bats liable for beatings? We simply should not force a lawful manufacturer or seller to be responsible for criminal and unlawful misuse of its products by others.

Individuals who misuse lawful products should be held responsible, but not those who make lawful products.

We have had through the years a desire by some to put gun controls on all kinds of guns, even though the second amendment gives us the freedom to keep and carry arms. To be honest with you, it is an explicit provision of the Constitution. We should not allow any misuse of guns, but we should not allow a change in the Constitution by mere statute that takes away our right to keep and bear arms. That is a God-given right, in my book, especially in some of the areas of the country where people have to defend themselves. In my area of the country, we had to defend ourselves in tremendous ways throughout the whole history of the West.

To make a long story short, we should not be abusing honest, decent, law-abiding people who want to collect, shoot, target practice, hunt, and own guns. We have been through it before. It is time to stand up and realize that the people who misuse guns are criminals. Those criminals should be prosecuted. But to make gun manufacturers responsible for the irresponsible acts of others, over which the gun manufacturers had no control, is just plain wrong.

I hope we can pass this bill. It would set a good standard to stop the frivolous and abusive lawsuits that are occurring in this country in so many ways, but especially in this particular way.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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