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CNN American Morning - Transcript

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HEADLINE: Senate Planning to Take Up Bill That Would Protect Gun Makers, Dealers From Lawsuits

GUESTS: Bill Bratton, Larry Craig

BYLINE: Soledad O'Brien

The Senate is planning to take up a bill today that would protect gun makers and dealers from lawsuits.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Senate is planning to take up a bill today that would protect gun makers and dealers from lawsuits. But some Democrats might try to add amendments, one to renew the assault weapons ban another to require background checks for buyers at gun shows.

Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho is the chief sponsor of the bill and he joins from Washington this morning. Good morning to you, sir. Nice to see you.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG ®, IDAHO: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Many law enforcement officials oppose the bill including Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton. He joins us from Los Angeles this morning. Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us as well.


O'BRIEN: Senator Craig, let's get under way with you first. You're the bill's chief sponsor, as I mentioned. Explain in as short way as possible exactly what the bill is supposed to do and intends to do.

CRAIG: Well it will certainly not close the courthouse door. But what it places in front of a judge is a very legitimate argument that gun manufacturers and gun dealers, if they act in legal ways and are effectively licensed, are not responsible for third party actions of the product they sell.

I think our country has a long legal standing saying that you're not responsible for somebody else's action if you perform and operate legally. That clearly is the issue here. There have been multiple lawsuits filed over the years. Most of the courts have turned them down as junk lawsuits.

And what we're saying is that this is costing the industry and it's costing legitimate law abiding gun dealers tremendous costs. And that's fundamentally unfair in the legal system of the United States.


O'BRIEN: Forgive me for interrupting you there. But since you made that point I'd like to go to Chief Bratton and get him to weigh in on why then he opposes this legislation.

BRATTON: Well this is a very disingenuous argument. This is being presented as tort reform. This is a law enforcement life and death issue.

What we are effectively doing with this bill is giving gun makers and gun dealers and particularly that 1 percent who supply over 50 percent of the weapons used in crime, we are giving them immunity from lawsuits. This is disingenuous in that they argue that if they have not violated a state or federal law they cannot be sued.

Would we give immunity to the auto industry or pharmaceutical industry? Because if we give it to the gun industry, they're going to be banging on the door. You think these industries create safe vehicles, safe drugs out of the goodness have their heart if they felt they couldn't be sued? It wouldn't happen.

O'BRIEN: And in fact some people, other opponents have said that this legislation will protect wholesalers and dealers and trade associations as well from civil cases when they-let me just finish my thought here-recklessly or negligently supply firearms. So why do you disagree with that?

CRAIG: Well what is most important here is that Chief Bratton is becoming involved in the politics of the issue and not the law of the issue.

Auto dealers are not held exempt from defective products that might kill someone if the product broke. We all know that. We have product liability laws in this country.

Gun manufacturers and licensed firearm dealers are not protected from that. We've crafted this law very narrowly. I wish the chief would read the law. He's man of the law. He has to deal with the law.

And the law says very clearly one type of lawsuit only that is brought by a third party because of the action of another party, that a gun manufacturer or a gun dealer had no control of.

Now, if this gun dealer operates in an illegal way, then they're put out of business by the Bureau of Firearms and Tobacco. And we've seen that time and time again if they've broken the law or exceeded the law.

O'BRIEN: Chief Bratton, I'm curious to know how you would defend-as you mentioned yourself, a small portion of these gun dealers are bad dealers. So all these guidelines would affect all of the gun dealers across the board. So how if only a small number...


BRATTON: Including that small percentage who with the existing laws and rules don't pay attention to them.

So what we're talking about here-Lloyd Cutler, a very prominent attorney who's recently hired by the Bush administration in the Iraq investigations, has come out with an opinion on this law that effectively talks to the issue of the criminal negligence component of it.

These weapons kill. That's for sure. These weapons are in fact falling into criminal hands through the actions, the inappropriate actions of gun dealers oftentimes. And also weapons that could be made safer gun manufacturers, if they don't have some degree of pressure on them, will not attempt to make them safer, child safety locks for example.

Again, these businesses are in business for profit. They're not in it for necessarily public safety reasons, which is my concern. So, no, this is a bad bill. It serves the interest of a small group. And once again, Congress is basically responding to the interests of this group.

You're going to open up the flood gates for all of these various other industries coming to Congress with their lobbyists saying, I want mine, too. If the gun industry has it, I want mine too.

O'BRIEN: We will see if that even ends up happening. Chief Bill Bratton joining us from the LAPD and also Senator Larry Craig as well, the chief sponsor of that bill. Gentlemen, thank you.

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