Senator Jack Reed: Floor Statement Opposing Blanket Immunity for the Gun Industry (2005)

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Senator Jack Reed: Floor Statement Opposing Blanket Immunity for the Gun Industry (2005)
Senator Jack Reed, in the United States Congressional Record.

Senator Jack Reed: Floor Statement Opposing Blanket Immunity for the Gun Industry (2005), July 26, 2005, Statement on the Floor of the United States Senate. online

July 26, 2005
Floor Statement Opposing Blanket Immunity for the Gun Industry

MR. REED: Yes. Mr. President, we have had a long discussion today about the legislation. I think some of the points the Senator from Illinois made are very pertinent.

First, there is the erroneous presumption that people who would be sued would be sued because of the actions of others, when in fact the negligent suits lie in showing that first an individual had a duty to someone else--a victim--and that duty was not fulfilled. Essentially, that is the essence of negligence. If you cannot show that, you cannot get into court. This is not about somebody being punished or imposed upon for the actions of others. It goes right to the actions of the individuals--the seller, manufacturer or, in this case, trade associations.

There is a perception also, I think, that has been given that the legislation as drafted actually provides exceptions that will cover the meritorious suits, the ones that should be before the court and eliminate the frivolous suits. In fact, that is not the case.

As Senator Durbin pointed out in the situation with respect to the Washington, DC snipers, there a gun dealer in Washington State was grossly negligent. He had 230 unaccounted for weapons and they should have been accounted for. He allowed a teenage boy to walk in and pick up a sniper rifle off the counter and walk out and didn't know it was missing until it was discovered to be the weapon of the assassins here in Washington, DC. That suit would have been barred by this legislation if it had passed.

The two police officers--Lemongello and his partner--responded to a call and they were in a shootout. They were seriously hurt, both of them. It turns out that the criminal firing that gun got it from a gun trafficker who walked into a store, a gun dealership, with another woman as a straw purchaser and acquired 12 weapons for cash and walked out the door. In fact, they were so obvious that the gun dealer called ATF and said he sold them the weapons, but watch out for them, which is negligent to me. Both cases were settled. Those cases would be thrown out.

The lives of all of the families in Washington, DC, have already been totally changed because of the loss of their loved ones. Conrad Johnson was a bus driver, waiting to go on his bus run, and he was shot, leaving a wife and children. They would have been out of luck because they could not have brought a suit like this.

And there were others. We all lived in fear ourselves. We drove around here looking over our shoulders wondering whether the assassins were out here in Washington, DC. One woman who was an employee of the FBI and was walking in the parking lot of Home Depot in suburban Virginia was shot. Those families, those victims, could not have come to the court of justice if this bill passed.

There are other suits that are pending today. There is a case in Massachusetts, where a young man, Danny Guzman, an innocent bystander, was shot and killed in front of a nightclub in Worcester. Six days later, police recovered a 9 mm Kahr Arms handgun without a serial number behind an apartment building, near where Mr. Guzman was shot. In fact, I am told a 4-year-old child discovered the weapon first. Ballistic tests determined that the gun was the one used to kill Danny Guzman.

This gun was one of about 50 guns that disappeared from Kahr Arms' manufacturing plant. Some of the guns were removed from the plant by employees that Kahr Arms hired despite criminal records and histories of drug addiction. The case is being pursued now. The issue is not what Mr. Guzman did. It is what this company failed to do. They failed to have background checks on employees who handled weapons. They failed to have security devices that would monitor if these weapons would be taken out of Kahr Arms.

I am told, interestingly enough, Kahr Arms is owned by a holding company for the benefit of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. So one of the beneficiaries of this bill, if it passes, will be Reverend Moon's financial enterprises because they will be protected from allegations of recklessness, not just negligence.

Now, the first exception to the bill is title 18 United States Code section 924(h). This simply permits cases against sellers who sell guns they know will be used to commit a violent or drug trafficking crime. First, in the Kahr case, the guns were not sold; they were taken surreptitiously out of the factory. This exception would not apply.

Second, you have to show they knew that the guns would be used to commit a violent or drug trafficking crime--not that they were negligent in allowing guns in circulation, but that they had to know they would be used in a violent or drug trafficking crime.

The next exception is negligent entrustment. This applies where a gun dealer knows, or should know, that a purchaser will shoot someone with the gun, and that individual shoots a person. This exception only applies to a gun “seller.”

Once again, Kahr Arms was not, in this situation, a seller. Moreover, Kahr Arms did not entrust its guns to its employees. Rather, Kahr's employees removed the guns from the plant because of Kahr's negligent security, inventory tracking, and hiring of employees with histories of criminal conduct and drug addiction. So that exception doesn't apply.

There is another exception, negligence per se. Under this provision, gun sellers whose negligence causes injury could not be liable unless, at a minimum, they also violated a law or regulation which the court found an ``appropriate basis for a negligence per se claim and which proximately caused the injury.

The exception only applies to a gun seller, and the bill defines sellers to include only importers or dealers, not manufacturers.

Moreover, in many States--and Massachusetts is one--negligence per se claims are not allowed under their practice and, therefore, the exception would not apply.

Knowing violation of the law exception: This exception applies where a gun seller or manufacturer knowingly violates a State or Federal statute when it makes a sale that leads to an injury. Here, Kahr Arms did not violate statutes related to the sale or manufacturing of a gun. Rather, Kahr's employees surreptitiously took the guns out.

Breach of contract or warranty exceptions once again do not apply. It merely allows gun purchasers to sue if the seller or manufacturer did not provide the product or service it promised in its sales contract. This exception clearly does not apply.

Defective design is a narrow exception for actions for some deceptive design or manufacturing cases. But that exception does not apply.

Rather than being legislation that allows the good suits through and the frivolous ones out, this legislation effectively denies people, such as the family of Danny Guzman, their day in court, and many others. It would have denied the two police officers from New Jersey their day in court. It would have denied the victims of the snipers their day in court.

For these reasons and many others, I am opposed to the legislation and join others who are and look forward to continuing our discussions in the hours and days ahead.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

NOTE - Public Domain as a publication of an agency of the United States Federal government, the United States Congressional Record.

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