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CNN Newsnight Aaron Brown - Transcript

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HEADLINE: Democrats Debate in Los Angeles; House Speaker Blocks 9/11 Commission Extension

GUESTS: Brian Lehrer, Janet Clayton, John Harwood, Janet Clayton, Lee Hamilton, Kim Masters, Larry Craig

BYLINE: Jeff Greenfield, Lucia Newman, Judy Woodruff, David Mattingly, Joe Johns, Aaron Brown, Candy Crowley, David Mattingly, Rusty Dornin, Richard Roth, Adaora Udoji, Josie Burke, Bill Hemmer

HIGHLIGHT: The Democratic presidential candidates participated in a debate in Los Angeles today. The speaker of the House has decided to block an extension that was to be given to the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attack on America. Haitian President Jean- Bertrand Aristide is still standing firm and says he will not resign, even as armed insurgents vow to march onto the palace and take him.

BROWN: In the Senate, opponents of a liability shield for gun manufacturers and dealers are essentially scrambling now to cut their losses. The bill has far more than enough votes to pass. The fight now has shifted to several amendments, including one to reauthorize and expand the ban on assault weapons. Democratic sources said today that Senator John Kerry will return to Washington on Super Tuesday so he can vote on those amendments, just one measure of what's riding on the bill.

Senator Larry Craig of Idaho is one of the bill's sponsors, and we talked with him yesterday.


Why should any industry, any one particular industry, be protected in this way?

SEN. LARRY CRAIG ®, IDAHO: Well, Aaron, you know, I would say no industry should be, if we haven't seen-if we had not seen the gaming of the courts over the last good number of years. We've had lawsuit after lawsuit filed which are basically frivolous or junk against law-abiding manufacturers who produce a legitimate legal product into the market. Some third party misuses that product, whether it be the gun or the automobile or the baseball bat, and somebody wants to file a suit, saying, Well, gee, the manufacturer was responsible for that. Those suits are costing industries in this country hundreds of millions of dollars. They're also costing us jobs at this moment. Clearly, the gun industry has lost nearly 2,000 jobs over the last 10 years because these kinds of lawsuits cost a lot and they're draining them of their money.

BROWN: Isn't this precisely the argument that the tobacco industry used for years, that they manufactured a legal product and they should not be-and they went to court and repeatedly won lawsuits that I'm sure they described as frivolous also. But over time, we began to learn some things about the tobacco industry that suggested maybe those suits weren't so frivolous at all.

CRAIG: Well, Aaron, that's-that is-that's an interesting argument, and what we found out about the tobacco industry is that they were gaming the tobacco. In essence, they were making them more laden with tar and nicotines than originally thought. We don't see that going on in the gun industry. A legitimate firearm is manufactured. It's sold into the market. We're not talking about product liability at all. We're not talking about the malfunctioning of a firearm. We're not going to protect the firearm industry from a bad product or mishandling it or legal-or criminal conduct.

What we're talking about is taking to the courtroom a law where the judge can look at the filing of these suits and say, No, this one is the third-party suit that goes through to a law-abiding manufacturer, and the evidence simply is not there to suggest they acted illegally, so therefore, this suit cannot be brought.

Clearly, if there is negligence, if there is damage from that kind of negligence, a felonious act, a criminal act, then lawsuits go forward, and I would not think of blocking or saving the industry from that.

BROWN: Two other questions. I think the harshest criticism goes something like this. The industry has a lot of political clout. The industry makes a lot of campaign contributions. The industry is, in many respects, feared. And so people-politicians just cave to whatever the industry wants, and the industry wants this badly.

CRAIG: Well, that's always an argument placed. I think I heard one senator on the floor today talking about special interests, special interests. I believe that millions of law-abiding American citizens with guns, I believe that people who legitimately manufacture a product in our market legally and safely ought to have some protection, if they're not acting illegally. And you have, if you will, the trial bar gaming the system.

But here is the reality of the gun manufacturing community. Put them all together and they together would not have enough gross assets to equal a Fortune 500 company. They are relatively small, many of them with only 200 or 300 employees, high-paying union jobs. And so we're not talking about a powerful, monolithic industry here. What we're talking about is firearm enshrined within our Constitution and a legitimate right, but more importantly, a misuse of our court system by the trial bar.

BROWN: Is there any doubt in your mind this will pass?

CRAIG: Oh, I do believe it will pass. There are going to be a variety of amendments that we'll be working on, some that would damage the value of it if they were to succeed and stay on and make it to the president's desk. But we think we can get a clean bill to the president.

BROWN: Senator, we appreciate your point of view on this. It's a controversial issue, and I'm sure over the next week, we'll revisit it again. Good to talk to you.

CRAIG: Thank you very much.

BROWN: Thank you, sir, very much.

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