PROTECTION OF LAWFUL COMMERCE IN ARMS ACT--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - July 27, 2005)
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, the reason I sent that list of cosponsors to the desk is to demonstrate to all of our colleagues that 61 Senators--60 plus myself--are now in support of the legislation that is pending before the Senate that we will move to active consideration of this afternoon at 2 o'clock. I think it demonstrates to all of us the broad, bipartisan support this legislation has and a clear recognition that the time for S. 397 has arrived.
This legislation prohibits one narrow category of lawsuits: suits against the firearms industry for damages resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a firearm or ammunition by a third party.
It is very important for everybody to understand that it is that and nothing more. These predatory lawsuits are aimed at bankrupting the firearms industry. The courts of our Nation are supposed to be a forum for resolving controversies between citizens and providing relief where it is warranted, not a mechanism for achieving political ends that are rejected by the people's representatives, the Congress of the United States.
Time and time again down through history, that rejection has occurred on this floor and the floor of the other body.
Interest groups, knowing that clear well, have now chosen the court route to attempt to destroy this very valuable industry in our country.
Over two dozen suits have been filed on a variety of theories, but all seek the same goal of forcing law-abiding businesses selling a legal product to pay for damages from the criminal misuse of that product. I must say, if the trial bar wins here, the next step could be another industry and another product.
While half of these lawsuits have already been fully and finally dismissed, other cases are still on appeal and pending. Hundreds of millions of dollars are still being spent. The bill would require the dismissal of existing suits, as well as future suits that fit this very narrow category of description. It is not a gun industry immunity bill because it does not protect firearms or ammunition manufacturers, sellers, or trade associations from any other lawsuits based on their own negligence or criminal conduct.
This bill gives specific examples of lawsuits not prohibited--product liability, negligence or negligent entrustment, breach of contract, lawsuits based on violations of States and Federal law. And yet, we already heard the arguments on the floor yesterday, and I am quite confident we will hear them again and tomorrow, that this is a sweeping approach toward creating immunity for the firearms industry.
I repeat for those who question it, read the bill and read it thoroughly. It is not a long bill. It is very clear and very specific.
The trend of abusive litigation targeting the firearms industry not only defies common sense and concepts of fundamental fairness, but it would do nothing to curb criminal gun violence. Furthermore, it threatens a domestic industry that is critical to our national defense, jeopardizes hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs, and puts at risk access Americans have to a legal product used for hundreds of years across this Nation for lawful purposes, such as recreation and self-defense.
Thirty-three States enacted similar gun lawsuit bans or civil liability protection. In other words, already 33 States, because of our silence, have felt it necessary to speak up to protect law-abiding citizens from this misuse of our courts.
Yesterday, opponents repeatedly charged that negligent businesses and people would be let off the hook by this bill. It was even stated that this bill would bar virtually all negligence and product liability cases in States and Federal courts. I repeat, nothing can be further from the truth. For those who come to this floor to make that charge, my challenge to them is to read the bill. Obviously they have not. They are simply following the script of the anti-gun community of this Nation. That is not fair to Senators on this floor to be allowed to believe what this legislation simply does not do nor does it say.
The bill affirmatively allows lawsuits brought against the gun industry when they have been negligent. The bill affirmatively allows product liability action. Any manufacturer, distributor, or dealer who knowingly violates any State or Federal law can be held civilly liable under the bill. This bill does not shut the courthouse door.
Under S. 397, plaintiffs will have the opportunity to argue that their case falls under the exception, such as violations of Federal and State law, negligent entrustment, knowingly transferring to a dangerous person. That is what that all means, that you have knowingly sold a firearm to a person who cannot legally have it or who you have reason to believe could use it for a purpose other than intended. That all comes under the current definition of Federal law.
Breach of contract or the warranty or the manufacture or sale of a defective product--these are all well-accepted legal principles, and they are protected by this bill. Current cases where a manufacturer, distributor, or dealer knowingly violates a State or Federal law will not be thrown out.
Opponents have complained about the Senate considering this bill at the same time and even have impugned the motives of the Senators who support it. The votes yesterday speak for themselves. Sixty-six Senators said it is time we got this bill before the Senate, and that is where we are today. When a supermajority of the Senate speaks, there is no question that the Senate moves, as it should, in that direction. The Senate could not muster the votes needed to invoke cloture on the Defense authorization bill which would have moved us to a final vote on that measure possibly by tonight. But the Senate, as I have said, by a wide margin spoke yesterday to the importance of dealing with this issue. Sixty-six Senators said let's deal with it now, and I have just sent to the desk 61 signatures of the cosponsors of this bill that demonstrate broad bipartisan support.
I think it is appropriate to consider all of this in the context of the Defense authorization bill because the reckless lawsuits we are seeking to stop are aimed at
businesses that supply our soldiers, our sailors, and our airmen with their firepower. Stop and think about it. Would there ever be a day when all of our military would be armed with weapons manufactured in a foreign nation? There are many in this country, in driving or attempting to drive our firearm manufacturers from this country, who would have it that way.
Clearly, it is within the appropriate context as we deal with Defense authorization that we ought to be talking about the credibility and the assurance we are able to sustain the firearm manufacturing industry in this country. In fact, the United States is the only major world power that does not have a firearm factory of its own. That is something that simply ought not be tolerated. Thirty-eight of our colleagues of both parties signed on to a letter to Majority Leader Frist making this very point: the importance of protecting America's small firearms industries against reckless lawsuits.
I would read from that letter, but I see that my colleague from Oklahoma is now on the floor wishing to discuss this legislation.
Mr. President, I yield the floor in recognition of Senator Coburn.
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I just came from our Republican Senate cloakroom doing an interview on this important piece of legislation, and I thought that in the course of that interview there was an interesting comment made by the person on the other end of the line: Why are you doing this now? And I thought it would be important for me to put it in the appropriate context because there is a tremendous number of important issues before the U.S. Congress at this time that the American people are highly concerned about because we are headed toward the end of the week. As the leader said a few moments ago, we are headed toward the August recess, which means Congress, in its traditional way, will take the month of August off for personal time and family vacation as do many Americans, and we reconvene after Labor Day.
So why now are you addressing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, S. 397? It was stated in the context that the Senate really can only chew gum or dribble a ball, but it can't do both. What I think is important for those who might be listening to understand is that we can chew gum and dribble a ball at the same time, and probably keep multiple balls in the air. That is exactly what the leader is doing at this moment.
Last night, I signed, and I think the Presiding Officer signed, a document that we are very proud of that has been 6 years in coming to the desk of the President of the United States, and now comes to this President because of his very clear urging, and that is the national energy policy.
Yes, the Congress of the United States has completed its work on a national energy policy, and we believe we can take up the conference report now on the floor of the Senate during the remainder of the week before we recess, and we hope that all of our colleagues would let us step back for a moment from this legislation to do so before we move to final passage.
It is very possible that we could also do the transportation conference report. We have extended the legal authority under the Transportation Act 11 times while the Senate and the House did its work, and I hope we would not extend it anymore. So, clearly, there are multiple things we can do, and I trust we will do, before we adjourn for the August recess. But I think the Presiding Officer and I would agree that when our President came to town, now, nearly 6 years ago--and I remember President George W. Bush elect in the leader's office saying: While I spent a good deal of the campaign time talking about education and a variety of other issues, I am here now to talk about national energy. And the first thing I am going to do as a President-elect and a sworn-in President is to name a task force headed by the Vice President to recommend to the Congress the development of a national comprehensive energy policy.
He did, but we did not. He pushed, but we could not produce. He continued to push, and now we have produced, and finally we have a comprehensive energy policy before us. So I would say to those listening and to all of our colleagues, I hope we can dribble a ball and chew gum at the same time and get all of this work done before the August recess. If reasonable heads prevail, we should get it all done by late Friday night. But the leader also said we do have Saturday, and we will get our work done. By early afternoon today, we will be on S. 397, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Firearms Act.
What I would like to do at this time is read a letter that we sent to Majority Leader Frist that we think sets into the right context exactly why we are here today and tomorrow debating this important legislation.
The letter goes something like this: Dear Majority Leader Frist--and this was sent on July 12, signed by a great many Senators, Democrats, and Republicans alike, MAX BAUCUS, who is my cosponsor of this legislation, and I, along with a good many others. We said:
In the early days of World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt foresaw that America ``must be the great arsenal of democracy.'' Americans rose to that challenge, producing unprecedented quantities of arms, not only for U.S. forces but also for our allies around the world.
That tradition continues during today, during our Global War on Terror. In 2004-2005, the United States--the only major world power without a government firearms factory of its own--
I said, in earlier statements this morning, we are the only major world power where the Government does not own a firearms factory. They are all owned by private citizens--
has contracted to buy over 200,000 rifles, pistols, machine guns, and other small arms for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. In addition, the U.S. Army alone uses about 2 billion rounds of ammunition each year--about half of it made by private industry. Those guns and ammunition are made in the U.S. and provide good jobs for hardworking Americans.
Those gun manufacturing facilities and ammunition facilities are spread across the United States.
Unfortunately, our military suppliers are in danger. Anti-gun activists have taken to the courts to promote their agenda of more restrictive gun control. The very same companies that arm our men and women on the front line against terrorism have been sued all over the country, where plaintiffs blame them for the acts of criminals.
These lawsuits defy all the rules of traditional tort law. While many have been rejected in the court--
And that is many of the lawsuits, some 24-plus filed, about half of them now rejected--
even one verdict for plaintiffs would risk irreparable harm to a vital defense industry.
These are some of the reasons I have cosponsored S. 397, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. This bill would protect America's small arms industry against these lawsuits, while allowing legitimate, recognized types of suits against companies that make defective products, or against gun dealers who break the law.
I was very clear earlier today that S. 397 sets that out in clear fashion.
The letter goes on to say:
We urge you to help safeguard our ``great arsenal of democracy'' by bringing S. 397 to the Senate floor before the August recess, and working to pass it without any amendments that would jeopardize its speedy enactment into law.
That is why we are here today, because a substantial majority of the Senate has urged our leader to bring this important legislation to the floor. We have asked the Senate to be flexible, as is typical in the Senate. While we have legislation on the floor and conference reports on major bills pending, we wanted to come forward to be able to set aside the legislation and to deal with those, and I trust we will, at least three: conference report on energy, the national energy policy, a conference report on transportation, and a conference report on the Interior appropriations bill, which has some critical veterans money in it that I and others have worked for over the last good number of weeks, and we hope all of that can be effectively accomplished before we complete our work by late Friday night or Saturday.
I think that with full cooperation from all of our colleagues, we can get all of this legislation done in a timely amount of time.
Another question was asked of me a few moments ago by the person I did the interview with, who said, well, these are very big companies that make a lot of money and are you not protecting them a great deal?
Let me put that into the right context. I am not going to name names, but I will say that I know of at least three firearms companies that have around $100 million worth of sales a year apiece, not collectively but apiece.
They were comparing it in this interview with the tobacco industry. I said, Well, gee, I know of those companies alone, they were selling $1.1 billion, $1.2 billion, some of them $2 billion industries in their collective value. So we are talking apples and oranges, an industry that is very limited in its capability that is now being sucked to death by the trial bar and these frivolous lawsuits to the tune of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars a year, in necessary legal defenses.
So that is why we have been very specific in the law. It is not the gun industry immunity bill. It is important that we say that and say it again because it does not protect firearms or ammunitions manufacturers, sellers or trade associations from any lawsuits based on their own negligence or criminal conduct. The bill gives specific examples of lawsuits not prohibited. Let me repeat, not prohibited:
Product liability, in other words, a gun that is defective, that misfires, that does damage to the operator of it, those definitions are clearly spelled out within the law. Negligence or negligent entrustment, breach of contract, lawsuits based on a violation of State and Federal law, it is very straightforward, and we think it is very clear.
The trend of abusive litigation targeting the firearms industry not only defies common sense and concepts of fundamental fairness, but it would do nothing to curb criminal violence, and we know that.
Furthermore, it threatens the domestic industry that I think is critical, as I have mentioned earlier, to the national defense of this country.
It would be a tragedy, and I do not know of a soldier serving today or one who has served that would want to serve with a firearm at his or her side being made by a foreign manufacturer. It does not make sense whatsoever. Yet that is the end product of the effort that is under way today, to simply put firearms manufacturers out of business. If they can be pushed overseas, then other forms of law can be used to block access to firearms or access to the importation of firearms from foreign countries. The argument would be foreign nations are attempting to flood the American consumer with a foreign product. I have heard the argument on the floor by those who have attempted to ban certain types of importation over the years.
It is an argument well spelled out and well used by many. Faulty as it may be, it is an argument that oftentimes resonates to the American consumer. But when the American consumer finds out that they have been denied access to a quality U.S. product or that product does not exist, then the argument turns around.
That is why we are on the floor today. That is why we are dealing with this important legislation. It is my understanding that we have arrived at a unanimous consent agreement that brings us on to the bill by 2 this afternoon. I hope at that time many of my colleagues who are cosponsors would join with me so that we can move this legislation expeditiously through the Senate. I know there are several amendments that will probably be brought to the floor, most of them destructive to the intent of the bill, marginalizing it at best. As a result, I urge all of my colleagues to stay with us on the construct of S. 397, to be able to pass it from the Senate as clean as possible, hopefully, very clean, so the House can act on it immediately and move it to our President's desk.
That is the intent. As we move through S. 397 over the course of today and tomorrow, I trust we will also be able to deal with the conference reports I have mentioned that I think are extremely important for this country and for all of us to have prior to the August recess.
I see no other of my colleagues on the floor wishing to speak at this moment and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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