WASHINGTON (AP) – Congress gave the gun lobby its top legislative priority yesterday, passing a bill protecting the firearms industry from massive crime-victim lawsuits. President Bush said he will sign it.
“Our laws should punish criminals who use guns to commit crimes, not law-abiding manufacturers of lawful products,” Bush said in a statement.
The House voted 283-144 to send the bill to the president after supporters, led by the National Rifle Association, proclaimed it vital to protect the industry from being bankrupted by huge jury awards. Opponents, waging a tough battle against growing public support for the legislation, called it proof of the gun lobby’s power over the Republican-controlled Congress.
“This legislation will make the unregulated gun industry the most pampered industry in America,” said Kristen Rand, director of the Violence Policy Center.
Under the measure, a half-dozen pending lawsuits by local governments against the industry would be dismissed. Anti-gun groups say some lawsuits filed by individuals could be thrown out, too.
The Senate passed the bill in July.
The bill’s passage was the NRA’s top legislative priority and would give Bush and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill a rare victory at a time when some top GOP leaders are under indictment or investigation.
“Lawsuits seeking to hold the firearms industry responsible for the criminal and unlawful use of its products are brazen attempts to accomplish through litigation what has not been achieved by legislation and the democratic process,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) told his colleagues.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) did not vote. He is in Texas in connection with his indictment in an alleged scheme to violate state election law.
Propelled by GOP election gains and the incidents of lawlessness associated with the passing of Hurricane Katrina, support for the bill has grown since a similar measure passed the House last year and was killed in the Senate.
Horrific images of people without the protection of public safety in New Orleans made a particular impression on viewers who had never before felt unsafe, according to the gun lobby.