|Rep. Barr Introduces Preemption Bill to Block Gun Lawsuits
By Ed Somers
On March 9, Rep. Bob Barr (GA) introduced federal legislation which would prohibit any lawsuit against the gun industry based on the criminal or unlawful use of firearms.
The legislation, entitled the "Firearms Heritage Protection Act of 1999" (HR 1032), would prohibit any person or government entity from bringing a "qualified civil liability action" in any federal or state court. The bill would also mandate the dismissal of any action pending in court on the date of enactment.
In explaining his rational for this federal preemption, Rep. Barr stated, "The unholy alliance between trial lawyers, big city mayors, and the anti-gun activists is about far more than gun control. It represents a greed-driven attempt to abuse the courts, short circuit the legislative process, and shut down law-abiding industries."
Rep. Barr is a board member of the National Rifle Association, which has been pursing preemption legislation at the state and federal levels.
Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, who is one of five mayors to have brought suit against the gun industry, debated Rep. Barr on CNNs Crossfire following introduction of his bill. Mayor Campbell told Rep. Barr, "During the impeachment hearings, you talked incessantly about the rule of law and yet this legislation would, in essence, abrogate the constitutional prerogative of having an independent judiciary decide legal disputes."
Rep. Barr responded, "Youre going after firearms manufacturers for producing lawful, non-defective products and we have a right in this country to defend against what youre trying to do to manufacturers."
Mayor Campbell again pointed out that guns are the only consumer product specifically exempted from regulation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and that he would be willing to drop his suit if the manufacturers agreed to put fundamental safety devices on guns to protect children.
Rep. Barrs bill, which currently has over 30 cosponsors, has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, of which Rep. Barr is a member.
On the state level, preemption legislation has been signed into law in Georgia, the Arkansas House has approved a bill to preempt local gun lawsuits, and bills have been introduced or are expected in Alaska, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and West Virginia. The state bills have been directed at local governments, whereas the Barr bill would prevent both local governments and private citizens from bringing suit.
Bill Seeks to Circumvent State Preemptions
Rep. Rod Blagojevich (IL) has introduced a bill which could help cities bring suit against the gun industry even if a state preemption is adopted.
The "Firearms Industry Responsibility Act" (HR 1049) would authorize an individual who brings a civil action against the gun industry in federal court, to also bring such action on behalf of a local government or state in which the individual resides to recover healthcare and law enforcement costs.
In the case of a successful suit, these damage awards would be returned to the local or state government.