NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Burnett: Congress Should Stop Lawsuits Against Legal Firearms

April 18, 2002

Approximately 30 cities and counties are pursuing product liability lawsuits against manufacturers and licensed dealers for the criminal or accidental use of firearms. In Congress, the proposed "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act," would immunize them from these lawsuits.The Act (H.R. 2037) would not usurp local authority, according to H. Sterling Burnett of the National Center for Policy Analysis. He argues that:

  • While a majority of the nation's states have banned these lawsuits within their borders, other states have not acted.
  • But a substantial judgment against the firearm industry in a state that lacks a law prohibiting these lawsuits would have the effect of regulating or ending firearms manufacturing and sales in states with such a ban.
  • When commercial regulations created by the legislature or the courts in one state significantly affect commerce in other states, Congress has legitimate oversight authority, because the U.S. Constitution delegates to Congress alone the power to regulate interstate commerce.

Although both federal and state courts have held that courts shouldn't legislate gun policy, the actual aim of the lawsuits is to push firms into bankruptcy, says Burnett.

  • The lawsuits have already helped push two companies into bankruptcy.
  • The firearms industry is relatively small, with sales of approximately $2 billion and profits of $200 million for the 1999 fiscal year.
  • With each company's failure, the remaining companies must divert more of their limited resources to fight the lawsuits -- thus one large judgment, such as the $400 million sought by Chicago, could bankrupt the entire industry.

The lawsuits are also a threat to public safety. Burnett says he has calculated that the net economic benefits from defensive gun uses range from between $1 billion to nearly $39 billion annually.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett (NCPA), "Testimony on H.R. 2037, The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act," April 18, 2002, Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection within the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the United States House of Representatives.


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