Mr. BARRETT of South Carolina. Madam Speaker, I want to close in saying I thank the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Wilson) for being the author of the resolution. There is no doubt that the South Carolina Farm Bureau Insurance Corporation has had a fantastic effect on every segment of South Carolina life. I urge my colleagues to support H. Res. 300.
Madam Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. GINGREY. Madam Speaker, for the purpose of debate only, I yield 30 minutes to the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Hastings), pending which I yield myself such time as I may consume. During consideration of this resolution, all time yielded is for the purpose of debate only.
Madam Speaker, House Resolution 493 is a closed rule. It provides 1 hour of general debate equally divided and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on the Judiciary. It waives all points of order against consideration of the bill, and it provides one motion to recommit.
Madam Speaker, before we open debate on the rule for S. 397, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act prohibiting frivolous lawsuits against the firearm industry, I would like to say that our Nation's judicial system is out of control. If a group or a person does not like what someone else does or believes, they try to sue them out of existence. This seems to be the case for the firearms industry.
Our Founding Fathers designed our second amendment rights to be absolute rights that shall not be infringed. However, those who find the second amendment offensive have made a concerted effort to sue out of existence those who lawfully and legally facilitate a constitutionally guaranteed right. America's firearm companies are directly connected to and span our national history, but they are currently threatened by a lawsuit-friendly culture.
Addressing the burden of frivolous lawsuits has become a necessity for free enterprise. It seems that for some individuals lawsuits have become the latest get-rich scheme. Frivolous lawsuits drive up the cost of goods and services, and they put law-abiding companies out of business.
The passage of this legislation is time-sensitive. Every day without this legislation puts more stress on firearm manufacturers, their customers, and their employees. Indeed, some lawsuits are motivated by ideology and a distaste for the firearm industry and guns in general. They will simply keep suing until either the firearm companies are out of business or the guns are too expensive to purchase.
This form of gun control will not only compromise one of our constitutional rights but, Madam Speaker, it threatens the jobs of many Americans.
So it is important to note that S. 397, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, does allow the following types of lawsuits to be filed: number 1, an action against a person who transfers a firearm or ammunition, knowing that it will be used to commit a crime of violence, or drug trafficking crime or comparable or identical State felony law; secondly, an action brought against the seller for negligent entrustment; third, actions in which a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product violates
a State or Federal statute applicable to sales or marketing when such violation was a proximate cause of the harm for which relief is sought.
This exception would specifically allow lawsuits against firearms dealers such as the dealer whose firearm ended up in the hands of the D.C. snipers who failed to maintain a required inventory list necessary to ensure that they are alerted to any firearm thefts.
Fourth, actions for breach of contract or warranty in connection with the purchase of a firearm or ammunition; and fifth, actions for damages resulting directly from a defect in design or manufacture of a firearm or ammunition.
So, under this legislation, manufacturers and sellers must operate entirely within Federal and State law. More than half our States have passed similar legislation, and I encourage passage of this rule and consideration of the underlying legislation.
Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Gingrey) for yielding me this time, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Madam Speaker, I rise today in strong opposition to this closed rule and the underlying legislation. My friends in the majority are again bringing to the floor a rule that blocks debate in the body before it begins. Under this rule not one Member of the House, Republican or Democrat, is permitted to offer an amendment. Under this rule and under this bill, the gun lobby is rewarded while public safety is thwarted.
A few examples: The gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Van Hollen) and the gentleman from California (Mr. Waxman) offered an amendment last night that prohibits suspected and known terrorists from purchasing firearms. That was not made in order. The gentlewoman from New York (Mrs. McCarthy), my good friend who will speak on this issue later, had an amendment that expands existing prohibitions on armor-piercing bullets to include those bullets capable of piercing body armor.
And the gentlewoman from California (Ms. LINDA SANCHEZ) offered an amendment that permits courts to hear suits based on the sale of weapons to persons with domestic convictions.
Under this rule, however, not one of these amendments, or any of the five other commonsense amendments offered by Democrats in the Committee on Rules last night, will be given any consideration by the full House.
Madam Speaker, our government was built on the foundation of an open and transparent participatory process. Yet, since 1994, when Republicans regained control of the House; I might add, Republicans that argued against closed rules, participation has been limited to only those who share their beliefs.
The underlying legislation, which dismisses existing lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers and prohibits the filing of future suits, is not sound public policy. On the contrary, it is outright political grandstanding.
During the last 3 years, more than 34 government entities have filed valid lawsuits against gun manufacturers, distributors, and trade associations. At the beginning of 2005, 18 of those suits had won favorable rulings, while only a handful had been dismissed. The remaining cases are still in court, and I gather that this legislation contemplates eliminating those citizens' rights to be in court.
In fact, several State appeals and supreme courts have also ruled that gun manufacturers and dealers can be held liable for the reasonably foreseeable use of firearms for criminal purposes. Settlements from these cases have forced gun manufacturers to make necessary safety modifications that the industry had previously refused to do. How many times do we have to see a baby with a gun in its hand or at its head or killing some member of the family before we get to safety modifications?
The ruling in the D.C. sniper case forced the gun manufacturer Bushmaster to inform its dealers of safer sales practices that will prevent other criminals from obtaining guns, something that Bushmaster had never done before. Other rulings have resulted in major crackdowns on ``straw purchases,'' where legally purchased guns are resold to individuals unable to lawfully purchase a weapon on their own. In each of these instances, it is beyond fair to say that they were not frivolous lawsuits. Yet,
if the underlying legislation becomes law, when the cases are heard then none of them would have even been filed. [Page: H8882]
Perhaps my friends in the majority can help me understand what is so unreasonable in requiring an industry that produces a product with the sole purpose of killing to take the necessary precautions to protect public safety, and is it our belief that the American judicial system is incapable of properly dismissing lawsuits that are both unreasonable and overzealous? They do it all the time.
Let us be honest and call this bill and this debate what they really are: legislative abuse, with closed rules and a political charade. Republicans are using the legislative process in an attempt to penalize attorneys and trial lawyers, historically supporters of Democrats, who hold the gun lobby, a major campaign contributor to my friends in the majority, accountable for its actions.
The majority's reckless disregard for judicial integrity mocks our Constitution's separation of powers doctrine. Dangerously, it does so at the expense of American safety.
I implore my colleagues to reject this rule and the underlying legislation, and I would say to my good friend, the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Gingrey), that I know of nothing in my makeup that would cause me at any point in time to want to do anything in derogation of the rights of American citizens under the United States Constitution. The second amendment, the right to own a gun, is everybody's right. But manufacturers ought not be manufacturing guns that are not safe and are poorly
manufactured, and nobody should be protecting them at all.
Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. GINGREY. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume before calling on the gentlewoman from Pennsylvania.
I want to point out, Madam Speaker, to the gentleman from Florida, my good friend, regarding this particular legislation, S. 397, we have in this body, not just in the 109th this year, passed very, very similar, almost identical legislation, and there were some 11 amendments I think offered during the markup in the Committee on the Judiciary. Those were defeated. In fact, at least one member of the committee from the other party, from the minority party, voted against most of those amendments
and voted in favor of favorably reporting this bill. This bill also was passed in the 108th Congress, H.R. 1036. I think the vote on that particular bill was 285 to 140.
Madam Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentlewoman from Pennsylvania (Ms. Hart), a member of the Committee on the Judiciary.
Ms. HART. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Georgia for yielding me this time.
I rise in support of the rule. This rule gets us to the point of this issue. My area of western Pennsylvania has a strong sportsman heritage, as does this Nation. Hunting has been a tradition, bringing generations of families together. As such, second amendment rights are crucial. I am a cosponsor and I strongly support Senate bill 397.
Since 1998, dozens of municipalities and cities have filed suits against America's firearms industry, somehow alleging that the manufacturer of a firearm can be responsible for the acts of criminals. These suits, following the model of the tobacco litigation, attempt to push the gun manufacturers into court to force a settlement, a large cash award, or cessation of a business. In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia attempted to claim public nuisance violations of firearm manufacturers, but a reasonable
court dismissed the claim, stating that the city's charges were a ``theory in search of a case.''
Firearm manufacturers have a time-honored tradition of acting responsibly. They therefore should not be subjected to these frivolous suits. Such suits are anti-freedom, they are anti-employer, not to mention that they seek to protect the irresponsible.
In addition, the gun industry plays a large role in my State of Pennsylvania in our economy. Pennsylvania is home to 277 gun manufacturers, and the impact of sportsmen-related activity to our economy brings more than $900 million to our State. It also brings generations of family tradition. That is also good for our economy.
Senate bill 397 prohibits illegitimate lawsuits against licensed and law-abiding manufacturers and dealers. These lawsuits, which attempt to blame the firearms industry for crimes committed by criminals who misuse their products, have already cost this industry more than $100 million in attorneys' fees and a suit against the industry has yet to win.
This bill seeks to end the abuse of our judicial system by the coordinated strategy of filing endless predatory lawsuits designed to drive law-abiding gun manufacturers into bankruptcy.
Senators SANTORUM and SPECTER have both cosponsored the Senate version of this bill which passed the Senate in July. President Bush has indicated his support for this legislation, and I look forward to this bill coming to the floor so that we can pass it in the House and its being signed and becoming law, so that our American firearms industry will not be subjected to potentially bankrupting lawsuits.
As we know, there is a way to control gun crime and protect the gun industry. We need to enforce the many gun laws that are currently on the books. Not only does this law protect lawful gun owners, but enforcing gun crime works. A study by the ATF in June of 2000 documented 1,700 Federal and State gun law prosecutions and 1,000 verdicts from July 1996 to December of 1999, while there were nearly 500,000 gun crimes committed annually. The way to combat gun crimes is not through ridiculous lawsuits,
but through the prosecution of gun crimes. Forcing the gun industry into court ignores a city's inability to control gun crime.
Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Madam Speaker, I am pleased and privileged at this time to yield 3 1/2 minutes to the distinguished gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. McGovern), my colleague on the Committee on Rules.
Mr. McGOVERN. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Florida for yielding me this time.
Madam Speaker, I oppose this closed rule and the underlying bill. This bill demonstrates how much of a stranglehold that the NRA and gun industry lobbyists have over the majority party. This bill is not being considered today because it is good policy; it is being considered because the majority leadership is bowing down to special interests.
While the proponents of this bill claim that the intent of this legislation is to protect jobs at mom-and-pop gun stores from reckless lawsuits, the truth is that the bill is all about protecting profits for the gun industry. Ensuring its yearly profits, not protecting jobs nor safeguarding gun sales, is atop the priorities of the gun industry.
This bill protects any gun manufacturer, distributor, or seller from any claim of negligence. Any lawsuit, current or future, would not be considered by the courts if this bill were signed into law.
Madam Speaker, on Christmas Eve in 1999, in my hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts, 26-year-old Danny Guzman was shot and killed. A week later, police recovered the 9 millimeter Kahr Arms handgun used to kill young Danny. Through ballistics, the police determined that the gun was one of several stolen from Kahr Arms by Kahr employees with criminal records. According to the police, one of the employees had been hired by Kahr to work in its Worcester manufacturing facility, despite the fact that
he had a long history of drug addiction, theft to support that addiction, alcohol abuse and violence, including several assault and battery charges.
Police determined that the guns were stolen from Kahr before the weapons had serial numbers stamped on them and were then resold to criminals in exchange for money and drugs. In March 2000, police arrested a man who pled guilty to the gun thefts. The investigation also led to the arrest of a Kahr employee, a man with a criminal history who pled guilty to stealing from Kahr a pistol and a slide for another weapon.
Now, Kahr did not conduct any criminal or general background checks on its employees. The company did not even have any metal detectors or x-ray machines or security cameras or other similar devices to monitor the facility or to determine if employees were stealing, nor were there guards to check employees at the end of their shifts.
Mr. Speaker, anybody with half a brain has to understand that this company was negligent. Now, if this bill becomes law, gun manufacturers like Kahr Arms would be shielded from negligence. And the Guzman family's suit would be dismissed.
This is just one of the many stories that illustrate the reckless and irresponsible nature of many, not all, but many in the gun industry. And this bill will only further shield them from accountability.
Now, do not be fooled. The NRA and the gun industry want this bill not because jobs are threatened. They want this bill because they fear their precious profits will be affected should they be forced to change some of their irresponsible and reckless practices.
To my colleagues who support this bill, tell the Guzman family that they have no right to be angry at the Worcester-based manufacturer. Tell them that the death of their beloved Danny Guzman was just bad luck and could not have been prevented. The fact of the matter is, it could have been prevented by more responsible practices by Kahr Arms.
I have to believe that gun owners all across this country would not object to ensuring that gun manufacturers allow for more responsible practices in terms of protecting what they manufacture. This is not about taking people's guns away. This is about protecting people. Mr. Speaker, I would urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on the rule and the underlying legislation.
Mr. GINGREY. Mr. Speaker, in response to the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. McGovern) I want to point out that this bill prohibits lawsuits against a manufacturer or seller of a firearm or ammunition or not-for-profit trade association for damages resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a firearm or ammunition.
But it provides, as I said in my opening remarks, Mr. Speaker, five exceptions to this liability protection, including, and I will just mention one in response to my good friend from Massachusetts. An exception would be for an action against a seller for negligent entrustment or negligence, per se, for example supplying a gun or ammunition to a person when the seller knows or reasonably should know that the buyer possesses an unacceptable risk of physical injury to himself or others.
As an example again, the D.C. snipers were successful in court on these grounds.
Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, the exception that he just cited would not cover the example that I just gave. The bottom line is that it was an employee who worked for Kahr Arms that stole these weapons and that sold them to criminals for drug money.
As a result, a young man was killed. And it is our understanding, based on my conversations with members of the Judiciary Committee, that in fact this would not be covered. So having said that, I would urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on this bill.
Mr. GINGREY. Reclaiming my time, I would again point out to the gentleman that it also would be an exception if a vendor knowingly did not keep an inventory so that they would have knowledge that dangerous weapons or firearms were actually stolen from their place of business. And that also is one of the exceptions.
Mr. Speaker, I yield 2 minutes to the gentlewoman from Michigan (Mrs. Miller).
Mrs. MILLER of Michigan. Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the debate that we are having today on this issue. I rise in support of the rule.
Mr. Speaker, when drafting the Bill of Rights to our Constitution, our Founding Fathers guaranteed the right of the people to keep and to bear arms in the second amendment, and for 217 years the second amendment has protected our freedom.
But for years we have seen a nonstop onslaught of individuals and groups trying to erode this basic right. Now, unable to accomplish their goals at the ballot box, they are targeting arms makers in the courts for the illegal use of their product.
Their attempt to force U.S. arms producers out of business would have a serious impact not only on our freedoms but on our national security as well. Let us for a moment just look at three of the companies that are targeted by lawsuits by the antigun fanatics.
The Colt Company is a sole provider of the M-16 rifle carried by the men and women of our armed services. Beretta USA supplies the standard sidearm for all branches of the Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies across the country.
The Sig Arms Company manufactures the sidearm carried by the Secret Service and the Navy SEALS. And if these companies are destroyed, where will our military and our law enforcement get the arms that they need to keep our Nation safe? From France, perhaps. Maybe we can buy them from China.
This is why the Pentagon took the extraordinary step in sending a letter to each Member of this House urging the passage of this important legislation. The aim of these lawsuits is to deny law-abiding Americans from exercising their Constitutional rights to keep and to bear arms. This must be stopped.
Instead, we should severely punish criminals, not law-abiding companies or citizens. And if we do not do so, what is next? Are we going to sue the Louisville Slugger Company if a criminal hits somebody with a baseball bat?
Enough is enough. It is time for common sense. It is time to protect the jobs of the workers of American firms. It is time to protect our rights under the second amendment of the Constitution, and it is time to ensure that the men and women of the armed services and our law enforcement have access to the best possible firearms to protect our Nation.
Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I would urge my colleague that just spoke that the many people that I know, and they are numerous in my State and elsewhere that were killed by guns and are advocates against guns, are not fanatics. They are people who are victims of murder.
Additionally, I thought I made it clear, I wish to make it clear again, that insofar as the second amendment is concerned, everyone that I know in this body is protective of a person's right to own a gun.
The fact of the matter is that manufacturers who act irresponsibly should be sued by persons if they so choose when that harm comes to them.
Mr. Speaker, I yield 6 minutes to the gentlewoman from New York (Mrs. McCarthy).
Mr. GINGREY. Mr. Speaker, I want to point out that this bill on the House side, H.R. 800, which was passed, as I mentioned earlier by the House Judiciary Committee, this bill actually had 257 cosponsors, Mr. Speaker. So this is certainly not a Republican bill.
You can do the math. My colleagues certainly can do the math on the other side of the aisle. But clearly, this bill had strong, strong bipartisan support.
Mr. Speaker, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Stearns), a member of the Energy and Commerce and Veterans' Affairs Committees.
Mr. STEARNS. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the rule and in support of the underlying bill. It was my bill, H.R. 800. I authored the House version. Then the Senate passed S. 397, and I am pleased that we are taking action on this important piece of legislation today.
This is a bill, frankly, my colleagues, that promotes legal responsibility. It respects, in my opinion, the legislative process, saves taxpayers dollars, protects legitimate law-abiding businesses, and strengthens our commitment to the second amendment.
This is an effort that has taken several years and at least three sessions of Congress to get where we are today. It has not been easy, but it has been heartening to see how much bipartisan support this bill has slowly garnered over the years.
When I first introduced this bill in 2001, it had 231 co-sponsors, but never received a vote. The next session we had 250 co-sponsors and an overwhelming 285 to 140 vote on the floor, but then the bill just died in the other body. Now we have 257 co-sponsors on my bill. The Senate overwhelmingly passed their version, and we are poised to pass this historic piece of legislation today.
But when we started debating this issue, there were only a handful of States that had their own laws prohibiting these junk lawsuits. Today there are 33 States that have laws prohibiting these frivolous lawsuits. So not only is this bill bipartisan in the House and in the Senate; it is bipartisan in this Nation with 33 States, both Democrats and Republicans in the State legislatures and Governors signing on to the bills that ultimately became laws.
And just a few years ago polls showed anywhere from 61 to 70 percent of the American people believed that the gun industry should not be held liable for damages caused by violent criminals. Today, that already solid majority has risen even more, to an astounding 79 percent of the American people, according to a March 2005 survey.
Mr. Speaker, this is a bill and an issue whose time has obviously come. I urge my colleagues to support the rule and, obviously, to support the underlying bill.