Firearm 'protection bill' protects the wrong people

By Katie Paulson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, October 25, 2005

When deciding on accountability for civil cases, gun makers have now been removed from the ranks of those able to receive blame. On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields manufacturers and dealers of firearms from facing liability lawsuits.

Proponents cite the legislative bill as an end to frivolous lawsuits filed by Americans each year. However, the bill resembles more of a federal method of escapism for gun manufacturers, spurred by political agendas and skewed statistics.

Of course, the National Rifle Association played an integral and influential role in the formation and passing of this bill. On its official Web site, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said, "This is an historic victory for the NRA. Freedom, truth and justice prevailed."

Unfortunately, LaPierre manipulates the ideas of "freedom, truth and justice" in order to coincide with his personal sense of vindication. Objectively evaluating the situation, it's clear that the Protection Act tramples those three idealist qualities.

How can justice exist when it cannot be sought? Civil trials provide an outlet for victims, victims' families and other affected members of society, whether the end result brings closure, monetary compensation or admission of guilt. In fact, the Seventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of a jury trial for those civil cases valued over $20.

In a recent article in The New York Times, Rep. Tom DeLay, America's favorite indicted criminal, shared his praise regarding this protective act (as well as the passage of the infamously termed "cheeseburger bill") saying that these bills "protect America's legal system for genuine plaintiffs."

But when did DeLay, the NRA, party leaders and other political aficionados earn the right to decide the terms for "genuine plaintiffs?" Instead, these proponents turn a blind eye to the Constitution and continue to pursue their own causes with complete disregard for civil rights.

In the specific case of gun manufacturers, the issue of liability remains a pressing question. The arguments have been heard from both sides: Guns kill. Wait, but people kill. Well, people need guns to kill.

Then, the floodgate of complications arise including the Second Amendment, free choice, gun restrictions and the myriad other ingredients that whip the issue of accountability into an ambiguous mass.

Yet, no matter how clouded the situation seems, it revolves around some certain truths. First, guns are weapons; those that manufacture and deal such sensitive materials must understand their role in the process.

Because of the nature of guns, it's imperative that those who sell these weapons ensure that their product falls into responsible hands. Numerous loopholes still exist in terms of background checks, waiting periods and gun show dealings that undermine the idea of gun control.

Instead of simply negating lawsuits against such corporations as frivolous, President Bush and the rest of Congress should understand the drive behind such legal actions. Moreover, these individuals need to recognize that their statistics may not reflect the entire picture.

According to the Public Citizen, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group, American businesses file four times more

lawsuits than private citizens. In fact, the report also found that businesses and their attorneys were 69 percent more likely than individual tort plaintiffs and their attorneys to be sanctioned by federal judges for filing frivolous claims or defenses.

Additionally, besides the fact that businesses are filing more civil suits, it's vital to understand the funneling process civil cases experience before even reaching the trial stage. The majority of civil cases don't end in litigation. Alternatives such as mediation, arbitration and eventual settlements weed out most cases.

But, the overall core argument resides in the fact that Americans have the right to sue other people or corporations. Victims' families of the Maryland sniper shootings won $2.5 million against the gun manufacturer that made the weapons used in the attacks. Yet, once Bush signs this piece of legislation, suits like theirs fall under the frivolous category and would be deemed illegal.

Another civil liberty axed on the chopping block. What's next? This American can hardly wait.

Katie Paulson is a junior majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at