September 2005

Short Shots: 09/05

Senate Passes Legislation To Protect Gun Manufacturers

On July 29, the Senate passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a landmark victory for the firearms industry and gun owners.

With passage in the Senate, this legislation is expected to quickly pass the House. President Bush has said he’ll sign the bill when it reaches his desk. The new law will block wrongful civil liability lawsuits — an ongoing scheme to litigate firearms manufacturers into bankruptcy — promoted by anti-gun organizations.

“I want to thank the many individuals and publications in the outdoor media for the tremendous job they did in making their readers aware of the seriousness of the threat to the firearms industry from these predatory lawsuits,” said Doug Painter, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

A joint statement by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and Chief Lobbyist Chris Cox read, “The final outcome of the U.S. Senate vote on S. 397 is a groundbreaking step forward for law-abiding firearm manufacturers, retailers and owners in this country. The National Rifle Association invested many years trying to pass this needed legislation that will put an end to politically motivated lawsuits.

The support in gaining passage of this bill from every hunter-supported organization in the country also underscored the threat these lawsuits posed to hunting and wildlife management programs. Since 1937, the firearms and ammunition industry has provided billions of dollars in support of conservation programs through Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act.

“The conservation community clearly understood that an attack on the firearms industry was also an attack on the future of hunting and wildlife conservation,” said Painter.

Since 1998 more than 30 lawsuits have been filed against the makers and sellers of firearms by anti-gun organizations and politicians. The Senate’s landmark bill provides protection for manufacturers, distributors, retailers and importers of all legally sold firearms and ammunition. Even though 30 states have passed similar legislation, the federal measure will provide the full protection sought by the firearms industry, nullify pending suits and prevent future illegitimate lawsuits from being filed.

Realizing that any industry, not just the firearms industry, could be the target of such harassing civil liability lawsuits, America’s business community weighed in strongly for the bill, with letters of support coming from the National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Businesses, National Association of Wholesalers-Distributors, National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers, United Mine Workers of America and other business groups and unions. The Department of Defense also encouraged passage of the bill because of national security concerns.

Opponents of the bill have attempted to scare the public into thinking it loses the right to file civil liability actions, but the bill’s language is very clear on the subject, allowing legitimate lawsuits to be filed against companies that sell defective products or against firearms dealers who break the law.

Several amendments put forth by opponents that were intended to “gut” the bill were defeated. Approved amendments included one introduced by Senator Herbert Kohl (D-Wisconsin) that requires firearms dealers provide a “secure gun storage or safety device” with every handgun transferred to a customer. This is already a common practice, as nearly all new firearms are shipped from the factory with a safety device, so the new measure would apply mainly to used handguns.

Two amendments sponsored by Senators Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) were approved. One allows children to bring lawsuits if they meet certain exceptions in the legislation. The other provides for harsher penalties for criminals who use armor-piercing ammunition against police officers. Another amendment clarifies that the bill does not hinder the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from enforcing firearms laws.

Early in July, the Senate began considering S. 397. The act’s self-description was that it is a bill “to prohibit civil liability actions from being brought or continued against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition for damages, injunctive or other relief resulting from the misuse of their products by others.”

The legislation had overwhelming, bipartisan Senate support with 62 co-sponsors. House passage is practically guaranteed with more than 257 co-sponsors. President Bush, who has signed similar legislation while governor of Texas, has said he will sign the bill into law.

Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for NSSF, said the legislation would provide very narrow legal relief from dozens of lawsuits filed by opportunistic trial lawyers and politicians that seek to hold gun manufacturers liable when their products are used in criminal acts.

“These lawsuits threaten to bankrupt our legal industry,” said Keane. “To date, members of the firearms industry have spent as much as $225 million defending themselves from these junk lawsuits. We are a very small industry, and trial lawyers and anti-gun groups are trying to bleed us dry. These suits are legal terrorism.”

Companies have been hit with at least 25 major lawsuits, in cities including Boston, Atlanta, St. Louis, Chicago and Cleveland. A couple of the larger suits in New York and Washington, D.C. are sitting in front of anti-gun judges and could drag on for years if the bill isn’t eventually made into law.

Gun makers have yet to lose a case, but these victories have cost more than $200 million in legal bills. Publicly listed companies such as Smith & Wesson have seen the legal uncertainty reflected in their share price.

“To date, 33 states have acted to block these predatory lawsuits that so clearly abuse the tort liability system,” said Zell Miller, a former Democratic governor and United States senator from Georgia. “But because 17 states have failed to act, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act must be passed — without “poison pill” amendments designed to defeat it — and enacted into law. The time is long overdue.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) said, “Overzealous trial lawyers — the same lawyers who are driving doctors out of the practice of medicine with their frivolous lawsuits — have long had the gun industry in their crosshairs.

Since 1997, more than 30 cities and counties have sued firearm companies in an attempt to force them to change the way they sell guns.

“The tacit goal, really, is to drive these companies out of business.”

Frist added, “We don’t solve the problem of crime in America by unjustly targeting the gun industry; we do it by targeting unjust criminals. That’s what this legislation is all about.”

Our Take: The gun prohibitionists in this country have failed. They have been unable to convince the people’s elected representatives that law-abiding citizens will somehow become safer if they are universally disarmed. The legal strategy of bankrupting the industry by filing frivolous lawsuits is morally bankrupt itself. But as one attorney active in these lawsuits put it bluntly: “You don’t need a legislative majority to file a lawsuit.” We recommend the passage of the House version of S. 397 as soon as possible.

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The Last Grand at Vandalia; The Next Grand at Sparta

For the 40 million Americans who participate in shooting sports, there’s not a more definitive or celebrated coliseum than the revered mile of trap fields at Vandalia, Ohio. It’s been the home of the Grand American World Trapshooting Championships for 81 years. But the 2005 Grand will be Vandalia’s last.

A view of handgun shooting berms at the World Shooting Complex in Sparta, Illinois.

A planned expansion at the Dayton airport, which owns the land beneath Vandalia’s trap houses and grandstands, sealed the fate--the Grand must go. Gone, too, will be the crowds of fans and annual $10 million boosts to the local economy.

In 2006, the Grand will move to the still-under-construction World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta, Illinois. While fans will miss the historic wonder of Vandalia, what the new facility lacks in tradition is more than made up in space. The $29 million complex will cover more than two square miles, with a line of trap fields more than three times that of Vandalia.

The 2005 Grand American World Trapshooting Championships began Aug. 9 and concluded Aug. 20.

In Sparta, the Department of Natural Resources is developing the World Shooting Complex (WSC) in Randolph County for. The 1,200-acre WSC will host the 107th Amateur Trapshooting Association’s (ATA) Grand American World Trapshooting competition in 2006.

Shooters will be able to enjoy more than 100 trap fields extending nearly the 3.5-mile length of the facility. There also will be two sporting clay courses, a skeet range, and a cowboy action shooting corral.

Our Take: The World Shooting Complex will be the largest multi-purpose shooting sports complex in the United States, and it will be a fitting home to the Grand for decades to come.


A Looming Problem

Bob Barr, former congressman and U.S. attorney who now practices law in Atlanta, recently wrote a cautionary column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It said: “I recently spent four days at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. The reason for my interest in an organization I and many others hold in low esteem was to keep an eye on the World’s Biggest Bureaucracy as it held another in a lengthy series of meetings to develop international controls on firearms ownership.

“I exited this latest conference with even less regard for its endeavors than when I first arrived, but with renewed amazement for its chutzpah….

“Such has been the history over the past five years, for example, of the efforts by the United Nations to control firearms not just internationally (which would be bad enough) but in all member nations as well (including the United States). Understandable concern over the acquisition and use of military weapons by rogue regimes and genocidal maniacs in Africa and South Asia has spawned a multiyear — essentially permanent — effort by the U.N. General Assembly to develop binding protocols regulating, and ultimately outlawing, the possession and transfer of firearms by civilian citizens in all nations that are members of the international body….

Our Take: We agree with Barr, who said, “The meddling by the United Nations is boundless. It is aggravating. It is costly. But mostly, it is just plain wrong. And someone needs to stand up and tell it so....”


Patrick Flanigan Sets New World Record

On July 6, Patrick Flanigan, the first Winchester Firearms–sponsored exhibition shooter since the legendary Herb Parsons, became the first person in history to throw 11 clay targets into the air and break each one with an individual shot before hitting the ground. Flanigan duplicated the old record of 10 targets on numerous occasions; however, the 11-target figure was an elusive and difficult barrier to break.

“Throwing the stack of eleven 108mm White Flyer targets is so critical”, Flanigan explained. “They must be presented in a manner that is realistic to shoot. Then, once you finally make that perfect throw, you must have the tools that are capable of performing.” Flanigan shot a Winchester Super X2 autoloader and Winchester AA ammunition.

Our Take: We’ve tried shooting multiple hand-thrown targets, and it ain’t easy. But we see Winchester’s evil plan working here: You can go through a lot of boxes of shells in nothing-flat trying this trick. But it is a ton of fun. Congrats on this feat, Patrick.