July 14, 2005

Senate prepares gun industry protections

By Joanne Kenen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The gun industry is likely to win
sweeping protection against civil lawsuits in the U.S. Senate
this month, reflecting a more firearm-friendly Senate after the
2004 elections, lawmakers said on Thursday.

Last year the Republicans killed their own bill, meant to
shield gunmakers, gun distributors and gun sellers against many
liability suits, after gun opponents attached amendments to it,
including an extension of the 1994 ban on assault rifles.

But the November elections left a bigger Republican
majority and the Senate is now a more conservative and more
pro-gun rights body. Even many Democrats, particularly from
rural states, back the immunity measure.

Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig, lead backer of the legal
protections bill, said he was confident it would win an easy
victory in the Senate, with few if any unpalatable amendments.
A vote is likely in the next two weeks.

Even if mostly Democratic gun control advocates do manage
to attach some amendments, Craig said the strategy this time
would not be to dump the bill but remove anything objectionable
in conference with the House (of Representatives).

"We hope we can defeat amendments and keep the bill clean,"
Craig said in a brief interview.

The liability bill is anathema to gun control groups.

But it is a top priority for the National Rifle
Association, the main U.S. gun rights lobby, which says it is
needed to protect firearms manufacturers, distributors and
sellers from politically motivated and frivolous lawsuits.


"Unfortunately, as long as gun-ban advocates are able to
burden firearm manufacturers with the costs of defending
themselves in court, the entire gun industry is at risk of
being eradicated," the NRA said on its Web site.

"Remember, too, that this is the same industry that
provides firearms to our fighting men and women in the U.S.
military," the lobbying group added.

Gun control advocates say the bill gives sweeping
protections not enjoyed by any other industry and wipes out the
rights of victims of gun violence, including police injured in
the line of duty or families harmed by attacks like those of
the Washington-area sniper in 2002.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says this
version of the bill goes even further than last year's by
making it harder for regulators to move against rogue dealers.

"It neuters our federal law enforcement officials from
revoking a gun dealer's license," said Brady spokesman Eric

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, a co-author of the
1994 assault weapons ban that Congress allowed to expire last
year, said she would still try to amend the liability bill, but
in more modest ways than last year.

For instance, instead of trying to reinstate the assault
weapons ban, she said she would try to limit sales of powerful
50 caliber weapons to federally licensed dealers, meaning they
could not be sold by more informal gun merchants at gun shows.

Feinstein said she was realistic about what she could hope
to achieve in the current Senate. The Senate Republican
majority gained four seats, and some of the new Democrats are
also opposed to tightening gun controls.