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The Marketplace Report: Gun Maker Lawsuit Ban

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

The Senate is about to give legal immunity to the gun industry. The bill would protect gun makers, gun dealers, distributors and the trade associations that represent these groups from lawsuits. Joining us is "Marketplace's" Hilary Wicai in Washington.

And, Hilary, it sounds like the entire industry would be protected from lawsuits.

HILARY WICAI ("Marketplace"): Not really, in theory. Now its sponsor says it's not designed to do that. The bill would prevent suits if a dealer or maker acted lawfully. You know, it is legal to sell a gun in this country, and if the dealers followed the laws and then that gun was used in a crime, the dealer couldn't be sued because of a third party's criminal actions. Now of course clearly the gun control advocates of this country see it very differently.

One of the most famous cases is the DC sniper case, where a gun was sold by a dealer in Washington state that was used in a series of crimes. You know, there was some question whether he was negligent, that dealer was negligent in his record-keeping. Now that case was eventually settled. But advocates for gun control say it's not clear whether that dealer broke any laws, so they say they won't even be able to bring a case like this again.

BRAND: So this is the old `guns don't kill people, people kill people' argument?

WICAI: Exactly, exactly.

BRAND: What's the motivation for shielding the industry from lawsuits?

WICAI: Well, you know, this morning I talked with the National Shooting Sports Foundation; that's a trade association representing firearms, ammunition and the hunting industry in the US. They say that their industry has spent $200 million since 1998 defending 25 municipal lawsuits and other lawsuits brought against them. Now Senator Larry Craig of Idaho is the bill's sponsor. He says he's just trying to protect an industry that's at risk. Craig says gun control advocates who are frustrated with the level of gun control legislation have turned their attention to lawsuits in an attempt to bankrupt the industry. That's a $2 billion-a-year industry. Now this morning on the Senate floor, Craig said they're trying to destroy a valuable industry, and that sets a bad legal precedent.

Senator LARRY CRAIG (Republican, Idaho): Over two dozen suits have been filed on a variety of theories that all seek the same goal of forcing law-abiding businesses selling a legal product to pay for damages from the criminal misuse of that product. And I must say that if the trial bar wins here, the next step could be another industry and another product.

WICAI: Now the folks at the trade association say think about it like this: If GM sold a car that was used to commit a crime, should GM be held liable? Of course, gun control groups are totally opposed to this. The folks at the Violence Policy Center here in Washington say it seems to them like the industry is marketing irresponsibly to potential criminals, like militia types, and they fear they won't be able to sue those folks for negligence anymore.

BRAND: And Republicans have the votes for this, to pass this?

WICAI: They say they've got 60 votes. That includes 10 Democrats.

Coming up later today on "Marketplace," we're looking at how labor is coping with its newfound split.

BRAND: Hilary Wicai of public radio's daily business show, "Marketplace," and "Marketplace" is produced by American Public Media.

Thanks, Hilary.

WICAI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).
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