Bill Banning Bogus Gun Lawsuits Should Pass Constitutional Test

Contact:Christine Hall, 202.331.2273

Washington, D.C., October 20, 2005—The House passed a bill today banning lawsuits aimed at holding gun makers liable for the criminal or unlawful use of guns by others. The bill, already passed by the Senate, now awaits the signature of the President.

CEI counsel Hans Bader praised the legislation, which protects not just gun manufacturers but distributors, dealers, and importers from bogus lawsuits

"Congress’s passage today of S. 397, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, is a well-deserved rebuke to the D.C. Council," said Bader.

An ordinance passed by the D.C. Council made gun-makers strictly liable for unforeseeable criminal acts committed by gun-buyers inside city limits, even if the gun was sold thousands of miles from Washington, D.C. The ordinance involved punishment of the sale of guns in other jurisdictions, not deliberate shipping of guns into D.C.

"D.C.’s ordinance set a bad precedent for countless lawsuits against makers of other valuable products, like knives and cars, that can also be misused for criminal purposes," Bader continued. "It’s the criminal who should be held liable for his own criminal acts—not an innocent manufacturer."

The new law will likely be challenged in court, but Bader believes it should be upheld.

"Some gun control groups claim the new federal legislation is unconstitutional, but Congress has the constitutional authority to override any D.C. law ," Bader explained. "And it has the power under the commerce clause to protect interstate industries, like the gun industry, from economically ruinous lawsuits in state courts.

"Lawsuits against out-of-state gun makers have a far more direct effect on interstate commerce than does gun possession, which gun control groups have consistently argued can be banned by Congress under the commerce clause," Bader concluded.

The bill does not ban lawsuits against gun makers who knowingly sell or transfer firearms intended for use in a crime, or cases where a product is defective.