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Friday, October 21, 2005  

Politics: Gun law is security blanket for industry

The Congress of the United States has once again proven its capacity for cronyism and its inability to grasp reality. The reality it fails to grasp is that Americans are dying needlessly. By succumbing to the gun manufacturers' long courtship with legislation that protects the industry, Congress has sold out the people who elected it. Every year thousands of those citizens die because of gunshots, often by their own hands. Though you will never see it mentioned in a National Rifle Association ad, apocryphal claims of using guns for defense notwithstanding, suicide is the most common use a gun owner makes of his weapon. The Federal Bureau of Investigation says that 67 percent of more than 16,000 homicides in 2003, the most recent data available, were committed with handguns.

The only ray of light in regard to this profoundly depressing decision is that there is a test case of the proposed security blanket for the gun industry awaiting the finalization of the law. The District of Columbia has a statute that will be in direct conflict with the law shielding manufacturers of guns from liability.

The Washington Post reports.

The House yesterday voted to shield companies that make and sell firearms from lawsuits by the victims of shootings, sending the legislation to the White House and handing the nation's gun lobby a paramount victory it has sought for years.

The House's 283 to 144 vote, less than three months after the Senate approved identical legislation, delighted President Bush, who portrayed it as part of the administration's drive to "stem frivolous lawsuits" and said he will sign it into law. Leading proponents of gun control immediately vowed to challenge the law's constitutionality.

Congress's decision has particular relevance for the District, the only place in the country with a law that explicitly allows victims of crimes involving semiautomatic weapons to bring legal claims. In April, the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the city's 15-year-old law, and the Supreme Court this month declined to hear the case.

Supporters and opponents of the legislation said the law would halt pending District government litigation trying to win compensation from gun manufacturers for medical costs and other expenses associated with shootings and several claims by local victims and their families. The pending suits include a federal lawsuit brought against Bushmaster Firearms Inc. by the relatives of Pascal Charlot, a victim of the 2002 rash of local sniper shootings.

The legislation is intended to cut off an avenue that gun-control advocates have used in recent years to exert leverage on the firearms industry, trying to curb the sale of weapons to criminals by holding it financially responsible for crimes. The National Rifle Association and other gun enthusiasts have complained that the expense of fighting lawsuits put manufacturers and gun stores on shaky financial ground, regardless of who wins the cases.

The Charlot case is about the weapon used by John Muhammad and his teenaged accomplice in the notorious D.C. area shootings. The gun seller had a lengthy record of weapons 'lost' from his store, but had never been held accountable by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms., which has had its enforcement authority weakened under the Bush administration. The plaintiffs seek to hold the manufacturer responsible for making the inherently dangerous semi-automatic weapon, and the gun shop's former owner responsible for 'losing' it. The situation highlights just who would be protected by the new law (Bushmaster and the gun seller), and who would be left without relief (the survivors of a man who died partly because of the easy availability of lethal weapons).

The passage of this legislation is also one of those times when one is reminded Democratic politicians care more about a potential backlash that might effect their electability than they do about standing firm for what is best for the citizenry. Fifty-nine Democratic representatives voted in favor of the bill.

8:45 PM