7/27/2005 — 

MR. REED: Reclaiming my time, again, I appreciate the Senator's comments with respect to the amendment, but once again I think we provided you the opportunity to look at the amendment. There are several issues here. The first issue is whether you think it would be appropriate to support and vote for it, which presumptively comes after debate. But the first issue is allowing us to offer the amendment. You might very well object to the substance of the amendment. You might very well urge our colleagues to reject it. I respect that. But the right to deny the amendment since you object goes against what the majority leader said in how we conduct this debate. I will make a few comments now in general and I hope perhaps during the course of my comments the review of the amendment would allow us to formally offer it. Again, there have been some comments about these junk lawsuits. These comments might have some resonance in this Chamber, but I doubt if we were talking to the widow of Conrad Johnson we would have the temerity to say the suit she filed on behalf of the family was a junk lawsuit. Or if you had a working man, someone sitting in his bus seat in the early morning having a cup of coffee and reading the paper--and when I read about that, it reminded me of what my father did every day as a school custodian. He would get up in the morning, read the paper, have a cup of coffee either at the school or someplace else, in the kitchen--and then suddenly his life was ended by snipers, leaving a wife and children. Then they find after the tragic incident the weapon was obtained by the snipers because, in my view, of the incontrovertible evidence of gross negligence, 230 or more weapons misplaced by the dealer, not realizing that a teenage boy walked into his gun shop and took a 3-foot assault weapon off the counter and walked out. That is not negligence? Oh, and, by the way, because we were able to stop this legislation last year and because in that case the defendant recognized that if they went to a jury of 12 Americans sitting and deciding whether they were responsible in their actions, they settled. That is not a junk lawsuit. Is it a junk lawsuit when two police officers are called to a violent scene and find themselves in a crossfire, find themselves critically injured, brought to a hospital, given their last rites, and then it is discovered the weapon that harmed them was purchased by a straw purchaser? Or that an individual walked in with a female companion, pointed out the guns, bought 12 of them at one time for cash, had her buy them because he could not pass a weapons background check, jumped in a car, took off--in fact, so obviously that the dealer called the ATF and said I took the money, gave them guns, but watch out. Negligence. Both those lawsuits would have been stopped by this legislation. Those are not frivolous suits. Those are examples of people being hurt, police officers, bus drivers, through the negligence of gun dealers and gun manufacturers. There is this constant refrain, the law is clear, the law is clear, we can't blame someone else for criminal activities, when in fact the law is quite clear on this point. I mentioned it before. What is the law of the United States? Well, in terms of tort law these laws are summarized, updated constantly in what is known as restatement. Basically it is a catalog of different positions of the law. Everyone knows it. Everyone coming to the floor, having passed a bar in one State of this country, knows the restatement basically says what is the settled law, the settled law with respect to criminal activity. I will read it again. Section 449 of the Restatement Second of Torts: If the likelihood that a third person may act in a particular manner is the hazard or one of the hazards which makes the actor negligent, such an act, whether innocent, negligent, intentionally tortious, or criminal does not prevent the actor from being liable for harm caused thereby. What does that mean? It means you have a duty to the public to take certain steps, and if you don't take those steps, even if in the chain of causation there is a criminal act by another party, you are still liable--not for that criminal act, you are still liable because you failed in your duty. What this bill does is--this great talk about responsibility--it says everyone is responsible except the gun industry. Automobile manufacturers are responsible. In fact, when we get in our vehicles and drive home tonight, we are all going to benefit because years ago under the laws of tort and negligence, automobile companies were forced to improve the safety of their vehicles for the protection of the public. Now the logic that, oh, they can't be held liable for this because no one intends to crash the car, well, that is right; no one intends to crash an automobile, but if the design of the automobile is defective, if there are safety precautions that could be taken, those have to be adopted because they have a duty to the public to provide a safe product, to avoid obvious dangers. This is a situation in which we have the obligation to take steps. So this notion about criminal intervening activities is not the law. That is not what the black letter law of this country says. The idea that manufacturers are not subject to the common obligation or duty to provide safe products, even if they are not required by statute, that is not the law either. There is also a deliberate attempt to confuse two very different principles. We have criminal laws, we have regulations, we have statutes that require certain behavior. They define a range of activities that are impermissible. What this bill says is, if you violate a law, one of those aspects of impermissible behavior, yes, maybe you can sue a gun manufacturer. But there is a whole other range of activities--accidents, unreasonable behaviors--that are not defined by law. They are not the criminal, but they do involve opportunities under civil litigation to go to court and say this person acted unreasonably. They did not technically violate a statute. They acted unreasonably. This statute essentially says, by and large, you can show they violated a very narrowly drawn legislative enactment or statute--they failed to fill out a record, et cetera--yes, maybe you can go to court. What about all the cases we have talked about, the cases of the straw purchaser where weapons were sold and, obviously, to the casual observer, in a very peculiar way. Why didn't that fellow, I believe, in South Carolina, who is buying the pistols that eventually wounded officers Lamongello and McGuire, why didn't he offer his name? He obviously was picking out the weapon. Why did they buy 12 at one time? There is no law against buying 12 weapons at one time. Isn't it curious that would happen? Again, we have a situation where this legislation has been carefully worked out to stop these lawsuits. Not the frivolous lawsuits, all lawsuits except under very narrow circumstances. And those circumstances do not seem to apply to the cases that have been filed. The exceptions would not have kept alive a suit by Officers Lamongello and McGuire or by the families of the victims of the Washington, DC, snipers or in the situation of Danny Guzman and Kahr Arms. That is more than coincidental. It is very deliberate. Again, as I mentioned before, this legislation can't be the panacea for the gun industry, the one touted by the NRA, as we have to have this on one hand, and then allow all the good suits there, the really good suits, the ones, in fact, that have been filed. And it is not. It is designed to stop practically every attempt to be compensated for the negligence of a manufacturer, a gun dealer, or a trade association. All of the particular aspects of the bill provide some window dressing--it sounds good, section XYZ of the United States Code--but when it doesn't work in practice, that is all it is. This explosion of suits, where are they? A small number of suits filed in this country involve anything covered by this legislation. The cost to the industry? This cost goes up $50 million every day we are here talking about it. What we know for a fact is that the industry has pooled $100 million to protect themselves, preemptively, to ensure that the communications are covered by the attorney-client privilege, to ensure that doctors are all centralized so they cannot easily be accessed because of attorney-client privilege. They are using our system of civil justice in the courts very well to protect themselves. They are unwilling to let others use the same devices to protect themselves. This great surge of lawsuits, as was indicated before many times in the Senate, financial reports filed with the SEC, many of the companies are privately held so only few report publicly, indicate to their shareholders there is no material financial risk involved with these suits by municipalities or individual litigants. The litigation costs out of pocket for one of these publicly reporting companies is about $4,500 in the last several months. Hardly a crisis. And then there is the suggestion that our defense will be imperiled. As I pointed out in my opening remarks, voluntarily the Defense Department is contracting with foreign manufacturers. It is not because of lawsuits. In fact, I don't know what the status is of the civil law in Europe, but I would be surprised if it was more lenient than our laws at present, but they are doing it because they want better weapons. I can recall as I entered the Army in 1967, the Colt .45 automatic was the side arm of the U.S. Army and had been since the Philippine insurrection in 1903. Now it is a Beretta Italian model produced by an American subsidiary, wholly owned subsidiary of an Italian company, and not, I don't believe, by a national armory of the Italian Government. They are a privately held company. This notion that this has anything to do with the national defense is unsupported, unsubstantiated by any fact and by the behavior of the Pentagon. They are not coming to us and asking us for this bill so they can keep alive the necessary firearms manufacturers in the United States. They have made a conscious choice for many reasons to go overseas to buy these weapons. Again, I am in a situation where we are attempting to reach into the courts of each State of the United States and tell them that their legislatures--that propound many of these rules with respect to civil liability--cannot do that. What can be more antidemocratic than that? Then, going to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and saying: You know, those laws and rules you passed about liability? Can't do that. We don't like it. Or the gun industry doesn't like it. The case most frequently cited to suggest a crisis is the result of the deliberations of the Washington, DC, council that passed a strict liability bill. That bill was upheld by the DC Court of Appeals. The DC Court of Appeals did not create a rule of strict liability. They said, essentially, the democratic process is working. Elected representatives of the people decided that would be the rule. As a court we cannot step in and overturn that. That is democracy. Of course, we are deciding we can step in and overturn the rules of 50 States. That is antidemocratic. This legislation is going to deny people who have been hurt the right to bring their case. They might not succeed. As my colleagues have pointed out, many of these cases have been turned down because they could not show that the duty owed to the public was violated by the particular manufacturer or gun dealer. But they have the right now to make that showing. We are taking that right away from them. This right is something that I would think we all would protect, not try to circumscribe and deny, and you cannot go into court with a theoretical complaint saying: I do not like the law; make new law, Your Honor. You have to have a case. You have to show harm. You have to show what the duty of the defendant was, how that duty was breached, and how that breach caused the harm. That is the way our system works. But not after this legislation passes. You can have the duty, you can have a breach of that duty, and you can have grievous harm. But the victim cannot go to court. It is not about an avalanche of lawsuits. There are a minuscule number of suits filed in this regard. It is not about courts out of control. In some sense it is Congress out of control, saying to state governments, we don't care what the state rules are, we are making the rule. We should be able not only to talk about but to offer amendments. I hope in the intervening time we have had to analyze the amendments that we could offer amendments and talk about them. I hope that is the case. I yield the floor.