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Senator John Thune's Letter

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This excellent letter appeared in the 10/12/05 edition of the Yankton, SD, Press and Dakotan Newspaper.

Point Of View: Protect Rights Of Local Gun Makers

By: Sen. John Thune
R-South Dakota


Firearms are a valued part of the culture and fabric of South Dakota. Each year, South Dakota issues more than 120,000 resident hunting licenses, and nearly 100,000 nonresident hunters visit our state each year to support our tourism and hunting industry.
Unfortunately, the centuries-old firearms industry has come under attack by activists who seek to unjustly hold law-abiding gun manufacturers responsible for the actions of violent criminals. Since 1998, almost 40 lawsuits have been filed against the firearms industry for allegedly harming others through the production and distribution of firearms. While none of these lawsuits have yet resulted in an adverse decision, the lengthy litigation process is forcing the industry to pay enormous legal bills to defend themselves.

South Dakotans have long seen the logic and importance in protecting gun manufacturers against these types of frivolous lawsuits. Our state was the first state in the Union to pass liability protection legislation for firearms manufacturers, and now the U.S. Senate has followed suit, having recently passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a bill I cosponsored, which would provide liability protection to law-abiding gunmakers and retailers throughout the nation.

Passage of this bill was a tremendous victory for America's firearms manufacturers, retailers and owners. Not since enactment of 1986's Firearms Owners' Protection Act have we seen such a significant legislative step toward restoring the rule of law and protecting the Second Amendment.

Frivolous lawsuits pose a serious threat to a cornerstone industry in our state. With 22 firearms companies based in South Dakota providing more than 500 South Dakota citizens with quality jobs, the firearms industry plays a key role in our state's economy, and we cannot afford to see it harmed.

Not only does the firearms industry contribute to our economic well-being, it also boosts our national security. Earlier this year, the Department of Defense issued a letter of support urging Congress to pass this important bill. As a critical part of our national security, the federal government purchases 200,000 firearms and 2 billion rounds of ammunition each year. If frivolous lawsuits bankrupt the industry, the United States would be forced to rely on foreign trade to obtain these weapons and ammunition. Placing ourselves in such a position would directly threaten our national security.

Thomas Jefferson made clear that "No free man shall be debarred the use of arms." The founders of our great country saw the importance of this personal freedom, and guaranteed the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights. The federal legislation I was proud to cosponsor and support will ensure that our Second Amendment right to use firearms is not undermined by frivolous lawsuits.

The urgency to see this legislation signed into law is now greater than ever. Going against the requests of 12 different states, the Supreme Court recently decided to allow the District of Columbia to sue gun manufacturers for violence in D.C. This decision from the highest court of the land clears the way for a major lawsuit from the nation's capital -- placing the stakes higher than they have ever been. However, if the House passes its version of the liability legislation and sends it to the President in time, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act could void this frivolous and harmful lawsuit.

I hope the House will soon pass and the President sign into law this vital piece of legislation that will protect the firearms industry, maintain our national security, and help guarantee our freedom to bear arms.
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Sen. Thune understands reality when he looks it in the face. Many other people don't. What Sen. Thune sees is that S. 397 will do what is essential to protect real people and real companies in real life, where anti-self-defense groups have been pursuing a plan to bankrupt the supply chain on which self-defense depends. American gun manufacturers, distributors, and dealers are already in weakened condition. Should those companies be destroyed while factions in the firearms community dispute with each other, what is lost will never be recovered.
 

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Here's a link to an overview of the FOPA, along with a bit of information about the dirty tricks used to get the Hughes Amendment tacked on:
Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986
The FOPA (99th Congress, S.49), also known as the McClure-Volkmer Act, significantly amended GCA68, providing gun owners some positives and some negatives. Specifically:
Opens up interstate sales of long guns on a limited basis.
Allows interstate transport of firearms in some circumstances. (Do not try to check in at a New York airport without NY permits. When you declare your firearms, they may arrest you).
Makes it illegal for anyone to transfer a firearm to a prohibited person.
Provides any prohibited persons can get relief of their disability by applying to the Treasury Secretary. This has been repealed in practice by the program being specifically unfunded in the federal budget.
It prevents the government from creating a list of gun owners from dealer records.
Limits the number of inspections on a dealer by the BATF without a search warrant.
Allows FFL holders to engage in business away from their normal business location, if at a ‘gun show’ in their home state.
Allows ammunition shipments through the US Postal Service (a repeal of part of GCA68).
Ended record keeping on ammunition sales, except for armor piercing (the real stuff, not what Kennedy calls armor piercing).
Prohibits civilians from possessing full-auto firearms manufactured after May 19, 1986.
Redefines 'machine gun' to include those sets of parts or parts that could be used to convert a semiautomatic firearm into a machine gun.
Adds serious drug offenses to the list of crimes receiving enhanced penalties.
Doubles the penalties for use of a machine gun, silencer or muffler in a violent federal felony.
Eliminates the FFL requirement for ammunition only dealers.
Specifically states that those disposing of personal firearm collections do not need an FFL and to get an FFL firearms do not have to be a principle business activity.
The majority of the amendment is spent reducing the power of the BATF, who had a reputation for abusing its power. The 1982 report of the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution concluded that seventy-five percent of BATF prosecutions were "constitutionally improper." More information is available at No More Wacos by Dave Kopel.


The Hughes Amendment
The restrictions on full-auto firearms are a result of the Hughes Amendment (99th Congress, H.AMDT.777). The amendment prohibited the general public from possessing fully-auto firearms manufactured after May 19, 1986. Rep. William Hughes (D-N.J.) proposed the amendment late in debate and at night when most of the members of the House were gone. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), a long proponent of gun control, was presiding over the House at that time and a voice vote was taken. Despite the fact that the bill appeared to fail, Rep. Rangel declared the amendment approved and it was incorporated into House Bill 4332. Once passing the House, H.R.4332 was incorporated in its entirety into S.49. The Senate passed the final S.49 on April 10, 1986 by voice vote and it was signed by the President on May 19, 1986.


More information is available in the July 1986 issue of the American Rifleman. It is not available online.
 

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jlang11 said:
Cant the people of D.C. sue the gov't for violence done to them?
Individuals can sue for violence done to them. All they need is to be attacked violently by people with sufficient means so that it pays to sue their attackers. It doesn't pay to sue an attacker who has no money. What this country needs is a better class of violent criminals.
 

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Since 1998, almost 40 lawsuits have been filed against the firearms industry for allegedly harming others through the production and distribution of firearms. While none of these lawsuits have yet resulted in an adverse decision,
So, doesn't that mean that the system is working??? Shouldn't the gun industry be able to counterclaim for legal fees?

That says to me that this legislation isn't as urgent as some would have us believe.
 

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Robert Hairless said:
Individuals can sue for violence done to them. All they need is to be attacked violently by people with sufficient means so that it pays to sue their attackers. It doesn't pay to sue an attacker who has no money. What this country needs is a better class of violent criminals.
No, what I am saying is, cant a (hypothetical) person that was attacked by a thug, sue the local gov't or whoever passed the anti-gun laws for not allowing them to protect themselves from the threat.
 

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jlang11 said:
No, what I am saying is, cant a (hypothetical) person that was attacked by a thug, sue the local gov't or whoever passed the anti-gun laws for not allowing them to protect themselves from the threat.
I don't know of any existing laws in any jurisdiction that would provide for that. One was proposed here in IL (where it will never pass). You FL folks might be able to get something like that--why don't you ask your Reps and Senators to introduce a bill like this?
 

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The Drew said:
So, doesn't that mean that the system is working??? Shouldn't the gun industry be able to counterclaim for legal fees?

That says to me that this legislation isn't as urgent as some would have us believe.
I confess I know very little about how the countersuit process works. Do you know if, in practice, the "counterplaintiff" (or whatever the correct term is) comes at all close to breaking even in a situation like that?
 

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The Drew said:
So, doesn't that mean that the system is working??? Shouldn't the gun industry be able to counterclaim for legal fees?

That says to me that this legislation isn't as urgent as some would have us believe.
You can't get blood from a turnip. Even if they did counter sue, the "victims" don't have the money to pay.
 

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Part of tort reform should be a requirement that if a plaintiff brings a lawsuit, he is liable for the other side's legal fees if the jury finds for the defendant or the case is thrown out.

I think currently the defendant's legal fees can be asked for. But it would be nicer if it were set in stone...
 

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Tort reform

kjhof said:
I would enthusiastically support such a reform.
As would I. Better yet, import the slice of Napoleonic Code that allows judges to penalize those who bring unmeritorious cases, and define unmeritorious to retroactively include prosecuting a slef-defense case, if a not-guilty-by-reason-of-SD verdict's returned.
 
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