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Public Statements

Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, this bill is part of the special interest agenda being pushed by the NRA and the Republican leader. First they managed to stall the reauthorization of the assault weapon bank, even though the bill saved lives and kept out police officers safer. Now they are looking to grant sweeping protections to gun manufacturers and dealers who recklessly sell guns that cause thousands of deaths in this country each year.

Contrary to what supporters of this bill are saying, this is not ``tort reform'' and this will not, as the White House said, ``help curb the growing problem of frivolous lawsuits.''

They call this bill the ``Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.'' They give it a nice name to make it sound like they are protecting trade. What if we called it the ``Shield Gun Makers From Lawsuits When Their Defective Gun Blows Your Child's Arm Off Act?'' Or, ``You're Off the Hook if You Sell Guns to Criminals and They Use Those Guns to Murder People Act?'' I guess those names just don't have the same ring to them.

How about a little truth in advertising here--``Protect the Unlawful Commerce in Arms Act?'' I don't think so. Make no mistake, this bill is an erosion of victims' rights. This bill puts the gun industry ahead of the rights of individuals. Ahead of the Dix family. These are real people, real victims. The doors of the courthouse would have been shut to the family of Kenzo Dix, who ultimately settled with Beretta.

This case was brought by the parents of Kenzo, a 15-year-old boy who was unintentionally shot and killed by a young friend with a defectively designed gun. Kenzo's friend Michael thought that he had unloaded his father's gun when he replaced the loaded magazine with an empty one. But the design of the gun failed to reveal the hidden bullet in the chamber, and this bullet killed Kenzo.

Beretta could have easily designed the gun with inexpensive, well-known features that would have prevented Kenzo's death. They could have included an internal lock to prevent Michael from firing the gun, or an effective loaded-chamber indicator to alert Michael that the gun was loaded. Although Beretta was long aware of the need for these features, it refused to include them.

Imported guns are subject to safety standards. But because domestic firearms are currently exempt from Federal consumer product safety oversight, the Consumer Product Safety Commission cannot compel gunmakers to include needed safety devices, as it routinely does with manufacturers of other products.

So court cases like Dix v. Beretta are the only way we can ensure gunmakers do the right thing. It is the only way. We know that just 1 percent of the gun dealers supply 57 percent of the guns used in crimes. None of us can ever forget the terror and horror wrought by the DC-area snipers. And no one here can forget the role that Bull's Eye Shooter Supply of Tacoma, W.A, played in that terror. Bull's Eye says it ``lost'' the assault rifle used by the DC area snipers to murder 12 people.

In just 3 years, Bull's Eye says it managed to ``lose'' 237 other guns as well. This is unbelievable. How did Bull's Eye ``lose'' all of those weapons? Clearly, the victims of Bull's Eye's gross negligence should have their day in court. In all it supplied guns traced to at least 52 crimes.

But if the Senate caves to the gun lobby and passes this bill, dealers like Bull's Eye will be able to continue business as usual. This bill eliminates any real incentives for the gun industry to act more responsibly. This can only result in more victims in the future like those killed by the DC area snipers.

This bill would bar cases including those brought by two New Jersey police officers, David Lemongello and Ken McGuire. They won a settlement from a pawn shop dealer who negligently sold twelve guns to a straw purchaser.

How does a straw purchaser work? This is one way: A criminal wants to buy several guns for his gang. He knows he can not buy it because he is a felon. So he gets his girlfriend who does not have a criminal record to go to the sales counter with him, and she buys the guns for him. The gun dealer knows something is wrong here, this young woman wanting to buy all these guns, but the dealer wants the money and goes ahead and sells the guns to the girl.

As a result of the police officers' suit, the West Virginia dealer changed its policies and now no longer engages in large-volume gun sales. Two other dealers in the same town also changed their policies. So the lawsuit brought about responsible behavior and our people are safer.

I want my colleagues to consider the outcome of this lawsuit. For two brave police officers, justice was done. The dealer was held accountable for its reckless sale to a straw purchaser, and now the dealer operates more responsibly. And no one declared bankruptcy.

This outcome was only possible because this special interest immunity bill had not yet become law.

Police and big city mayors oppose the bill before us. They say it will just make battling illegal guns more difficult and make police officers' lives more dangerous, more deadly. They oppose immunizing gun manufacturers against civil liability because it would remove much of their legal incentive to behave responsibly. It would just encourage bad manufacturers to remain bad, while giving good manufacturers the green light to become lax.

In my home state of California, we used to have a law that shielded gunmakers from liability, but the governor signed legislation repealing that law 2 years ago. Today in California, gun manufacturers like everyone else are responsible for making their products as safe as they can be.

We are safer today in California, but that margin of safety will disappear if Congress gives the gun industry special legal immunity.

In 1999, the late Senator John Chafee and I introduced the Firearms Rights, Responsibilities, and Remedies Act, which would have preserved the right of local governments and individuals to hold the gun industry accountable for avoidable gun violence.

Congress not only failed to pass our bill; the House and now many of my colleagues have charged off in the opposite direction to protect gunmakers while putting the rest of us at greater risk.

Who do we represent here? I ask my colleagues that we think about the 30,000 Americans killed every year by guns, and 12,000 children wounded each year by guns.

I urge my colleagues to listen to the police officers walking the beat, to Lynn Dix, the mother of Kenzo Dix, and to all the other mothers who have lost their children to gun violence, and to victims of the DC snipers' rampage. Listen to them and vote against this extremist bill.


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