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Public Statements

Order of Business

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. SANTORUM. Mr. President, I rise to express my support of S. 397, the Protection of Lawful Commerce Act introduced my colleague Senator CRAIG of Idaho.

The number of frivolous lawsuits against gun manufacturers has significantly increased in recent years. Since 1998, dozens of municipalities and cities have filed suit against America's firearm industry, falsely alleging that manufacturers are responsible for the unforeseen acts of criminals. Firearms manufacturers have already spent more than $200 million in legal fees yet have not been found liable by a single court for the criminal misuse of their highly regulated products. Unfortunately, these lawsuits appear to be designed to impose a political agenda that 33 State legislatures have already rejected. Lawsuits against manufacturers who have nothing to do with the crime at hand thwart the will of the people by bypassing their elected representatives and attempting to impose novel legal theories by judicial fiat. Worse, these suits--even while unsuccessful--drain significant resources from these companies that are the backbone of supplying our military and police officers with the weapons to protect themselves on the job. We cannot allow this trend to continue.

S. 397 is a narrowly crafted bill that stops the lawsuit abuse, while continuing to hold those individuals and companies that knowingly violate the law liable for their actions. Specifically, the bill provides that lawsuits may not be brought against manufacturers and sellers of firearms or ammunition if the suits are based on criminal or unlawful use of the product by a third party. This bill provides carefully tailored protections that continue to allow legitimate suits based on knowing violations of Federal or State law related to gun sales, or on traditional grounds including negligent entrustment, such as sales to a child or an obviously intoxicated person or breach of contract. The bill also allows product liability cases involving actual injuries caused by an improperly functioning firearm, as opposed to cases of intentional misuse.

Many of my constituents have raised concerns about frivolous lawsuits in the gun industry. Pennsylvania leads the Nation in the number of licensed deer hunters and ranks among the leaders in firearm hunters. There are nearly three million hunting licenses sold in Pennsylvania each year. Over one million hunters go out in the field each fall. These suits, by threatening the survival of firearms makers, threaten to end that outdoor tradition and the family time that often accompanies it.

The hard-working men and women in Pennsylvania who make up our labor unions also support S. 397. This should be no surprise, however, as working men and women recognize a threat to their jobs and their way of life when they see one. The numbers are telling. Pennsylvania has 227 companies involved in firearms manufacture. There are over 3,000 federally licensed firearms dealers. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, there are approximately 34,000 jobs and $909 million in salaries and wages supported by those businesses and sportsmen in Pennsylvania. Additionally, these Pennsylvania sportsmen spend about $2 billion in the State, generating approximately $119 million in Pennsylvania State tax revenue.

Many families' lives are negatively impacted by these reckless lawsuits. While many of the personal tragedies behind these lawsuits are horrific, the individual responsible is--as it has always been in our system of justice--the criminal not the lawfully operating company. If a lawsuit is based on a defective firearm, a knowing violation of the law or the breach of a contract, that suit should proceed--and S. 397 would allow it to proceed. However, the frivolous suits with novel legal theories and invented liability have already cost jobs, including here in Pennsylvania, and they will cost more jobs if they continue. They will force company closures and they will close family businesses. Suing law-abiding gun makers and dealers for the acts of criminals is like suing automobile makers for the damage caused by reckless drivers. It is wrong and goes against the entrepreneurial and industrial spirit of this country.

I agree there is a need to reduce violent crime, and I share the concerns of gun control advocates with the number and severity of violent acts occurring within our Nation. During a June 13th field hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Philadelphia, we learned about the many factors that contribute to the problem of youth violence including poverty, broken families, a lack of mentors, and loose enforcement of current gun laws. I believe it is necessary to focus on the root causes of these problems rather than develop a policy that appears helpful on the surface. I have worked and continue to work on the issues of poverty, broken families and mentoring, however I believe that greater enforcement of existing gun laws is a key part of the solution to eradicating gun violence.

The program ``Project Exile'' is an example of how stricter enforcement of current laws can make a difference. For this reason, I have been involved in implementing Project Exile in Philadelphia. This program began in Richmond, VA, and has proven to be extremely successful in reducing gun crime by simply enforcing existing Federal gun laws. The program adopts a zero-tolerance policy for Federal gun crimes. Federal, State and local law enforcement and prosecutors work hand-in-hand to expedite prosecution of each and every Federal firearms violation under Project Exile. Thanks to Project Safe Neighborhoods and Project Exile, Federal prosecutions of firearms offenses have gone up 91 percent since 2000. Nationally, those prosecutions have jumped 76 percent in the same time period. That means that more criminals are serving hard time for breaking Federal gun laws. More criminals off the street means our citizens are safer. That is a much more effective way to fight crime than punishing innocent manufacturers through frivolous lawsuits.

I encourage my colleagues to support S. 397. Doing so will help an industry that is being unfairly targeted for violent crimes, and allow us to continue to focus on the real causes of violent crimes.

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