For Release: Tuesday, June 30, 1998
New VPC Report Exposes How Sweeping Bill Lets Gun Industry Off the Hook Including Makers of AK-47, TEC-9, Street Sweeper
Amendment by Torricelli and Feinstein Only Hope to Preserve Strategy of Tobacco-Like Suits Against Gun Industry
The first major bill scheduled for a vote when the Senate returns from its July 4th recess next week would let dozens of gun manufacturers off the hook in lawsuits against them – particularly companies that make Saturday Night Specials and assault weapons, according to a new Violence Policy Center report released today.
The overall bill, which places wide-ranging limits on product liability lawsuits, is the result of a compromise between its Senate sponsors and the White House. If the Senate passes the legislation, it is expected to be approved by the House and signed by the President this year.
The VPC’s report, “Small” Favors, reveals how the bill’s protection for “small businesses” would apply to many notorious gun manufacturers that each produce thousands of firearms every year. The report provides background on a sampling of these companies, including their production figures and pictures of their weapons.
“Most Americans think of a small business as Mom and Pop’s candy store, not Davis Industries, which churns out anywhere from 50,000 to 175,000 Saturday Night Specials in one year,” said Kristen Rand, the VPC’s director of federal policy.
Davis Industries is one of many companies specializing in Saturday Night Specials which would be protected as a “small business.” Other beneficiaries of the “small favor” include the manufacturers of guns with documented safety defects and the makers of such infamous guns as the AK-47, the TEC-9, and the Street Sweeper.
An amendment sponsored by Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) would maintain the gun industry’s legal responsibility by excluding guns from the bill’s reach. The legislation already includes a similar exemption for tobacco. Early whip counts on the amendment project a very close vote.
“Because the gun lobby has a stranglehold on Congress, the laws on health, safety, and consumer protection that apply to every other product don’t apply to guns,” Rand said. “The courtroom is the only place left to get compensation for victims of gun violence and make the gun industry accountable for its conduct. The Torricelli-Feinstein Amendment preserves this last chance for justice.”
In its current form, the bill limits punitive damages against any “small business” to a paltry $250,000. Other provisions of the proposed legislation protect gun sellers as well as manufacturers, even in cases when they market guns to criminals, or undermine causes of action important to litigation by gun victims.
These restrictions would obliterate the new wave of lawsuits against the gun industry, which are modeled on the successful litigation against tobacco companies. Around the country, gun victims, gun control advocates, and mayors are pursuing potential cases. For example, the mayors of Philadelphia and Chicago have announced that they are considering filing lawsuits against the industry.
“The gun lobby sees how the tobacco industry has been devastated by litigation over its dangerous products and shady practices,” Rand said. “Gun manufacturers want to slam the courthouse door before they meet the same fate.”