Gun Immunity Considered by Congress
By Ed Somers
May 9, 2005
Congress is once again weighing legislation to immunize the gun industry from most negligence and product liability claims. A similar version of the bill was defeated in the Senate last year when the bill's sponsor, Sen. Larry Craig (ID), urged Senators to vote it down after certain safety amendments, including a ban on military'style assault weapons, had been attached. This year's bill, "The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (H.R. 800/S. 397)," provides even broader protections to gun dealers, distributors, and makers, and is on a fast-track to passage.
The United States Conference of Mayors has adopted policy in opposition to gun immunity legislation.
The bill specifically states: "A qualified civil liability action may not be brought in any federal or state court." Additional language makes the bill retroactive, which would end all pending cases brought by individual victims and cities.
This year's bill goes even further than state preemption laws and last year's legislation. New language has been inserted that would block "administrative proceedings" against the gun industry, significantly curtailing the ATF's power to regulate unscrupulous dealers. Specifically, the bill would prohibit the AFT from revoking a dealer's license, even in cases where a dealer has been issued a series of violations and is responsible for a high percentage of crime guns. New provisions could also overturn city ordinances aimed at shutting down "kitchen table" dealers, a key source of illegally trafficked guns.
By weakening the ATF's powers, immunity legislation runs counter to goals established by the administration's Project Safe Neighborhoods Gun Safety Agenda and recommendations made by the Inspector General. In testimony before Congress last July, the IG reported on the ATF's failure to target reckless gun dealers and recommended that field operations "conduct follow-up inspections on firearms dealers that were issued warning letters or that were directed to attend warning conferences, and to escalate adverse actions for repeat offenses."
A number of former ATF directors have joined a growing number of national groups that oppose H.R.800/S. 397, led by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Law enforcement associations, including the International Brotherhood of Police and Major Cities Chiefs Association, the American Bar Association, legal scholars and educators, and newspaper editorial boards across the country all stand opposed to this legislation.