Congress Helps Gun Lobby Ram Through Special Interest Break
WASHINGTON In one of the largest give-aways to a single special interest, the United States House of Representatives today approved a bill to give gun manufacturers and dealers unprecedented immunity from lawsuits.Responding to pressure from the gun lobby, the House followed the lead of the U.S. Senate in passing S. 397. The Senate passed this legislation in July, choosing to interrupt debate on the Defense Authorization bill. The same bill, sponsored by the National Rifle Association (NRA), was unexpectedly defeated the last time it was brought up in the Senate in March 2004, after Reed and others added language to close the gun show loophole and extend the assault weapons ban. Reed stated, This bill sets a disturbing precedent by giving a single industry broad immunity from civil liability, depriving even victims with legitimate cases of their day in court.The bill would immunize gun manufacturers, gun dealers, distributors and trade associations from most lawsuits, including ones already in court brought by shooting victims and municipalities.Background"The only two publicly-held gun companies who have filed recent statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission contradict the claim that they are threatened by lawsuits. Smith & Wesson filed a statement with the SEC on June 29, 2005, stating that "we expect net product sales for fiscal 2005 to be approximately $124 million, a 5% increase over the $117.9 million reported for fiscal 2004. "Firearms sales for fiscal 2005 are expected to increase by approximately 11% over fiscal 2004 levels." In another filing, dated March 10, 2005, Smith & Wesson wrote, "In the nine months ended January 31, 2005, we incurred $4,535 in defense costs, net of amounts received from insurance carriers, relative to product liability and municipal litigation." "Meanwhile, gun manufacturer Sturm, Ruger told the SEC in a March 11, 2005 filing: "[I]t is not probable and is unlikely that litigation, including punitive damage claims, will have a material adverse effect on the financial position of the Company." "The level of litigation against gun manufacturers and dealers is miniscule. From 1993-2003, 57 suits were filed against gun industry defendants, out of what the State Court Journal published by the National Center for State Courts estimates is 10 million tort suits. "The aggregate damages paid in tort suits per year is $82.6 billion [U.S. Tort Costs, 2002 Update, Tillinghast-Towers Perrin, 200 figures], while damages paid in gun suits each year is $441,800, excluding unreported confidential settlements.