The Assault Weapons Ban and the Threat of Gun Industry Immunity: Take Action to Protect the Public from Gun Violence

There is legislation in the US Senate that, if passed, would drastically limit the legal rights and abilities of those victimized by gun violence. This bill, S. 659, along with similar bills S. 1805 and S. 1806, would prohibit victims of gun violence from suing gun manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers for civil damages except in limited circumstances.


S. 659 would also require an immediate dismissal of pending lawsuits and give the gun industry a unique legal protection not granted to other American industries.


Whatever the bill number, this special-interest legislation threatens to take away the legal rights of gun violence

victims and gives sweeping legal immunity to the gun industry. This legislation would grant the gun industry unprecedented immunity from civil litigation, preventing victims of gun violence from seeking justice in our nations courts.


S. 659 would remove a major incentive for gun manufacturers and dealers to make their products safer, improve their distribution practices, and keep guns out of the hands of criminals. This legislation radically rewrites longstanding legal principles. Under current law, a manufacturer may be liable for failing to include feasible safety devices that prevent injuries caused by the foreseeable use or misuse of its products, even if those uses are “not intended.”


Since the federal government regularly fails to protect the public from firearms, the only recourse for victims of

gun injury, as well as cities and counties deeply affected by gun violence, is through the judiciary system. The purpose of lawsuits against gun makers is to change the way the gun industry conducts business and force it to take into account the health of its consumers. The lawsuits focus on such areas as unsafe gun design, negligent or irresponsible gun distribution, and deceptive marketing and advertising. S. 659, S. 1805 and S. 1806 would provide unique legal protection for the gun industry at the expense of innocent Americans.


The current federal assault weapons ban, established in 1994, prohibits the manufacture and distribution of specific

models of military-style assault weapons,high capacity magazines, and weapons with certain combinations of

features designed for military use.


The current ban expires this coming year. The 1994 law named 19 specific models, and also banned “copies or

duplicates” of those models. In addition, the law outlawed guns that have two or more specified assault weapon features. Guns that were legally possessed before the effective date of the law remain legal. Since the establishment of the assault weapons ban, gun manufacturers have exploited loopholes by making minor modifications to banned guns while retaining the key military features that defined those guns as assault weapons. Many violence prevention

advocates are calling for strengthened legislation that closes these loopholes.


Again, the current ban sunsets on September 13, 2004. Unless legislation that renews and strengthens the assault

weapons ban is passed before then, dozens of models of military-style assault weapons will then be legal to sell

in our communities and on our streets.


Currently there are three pieces of legislation that have been introduced to address the need for a ban on assault

weapons: S. 1431 introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and H.R. 2038 introduced by Representatives Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and John Conyers (DMI). These identical bills will repeal the sunset date on the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban and ban the importation of large capacity ammunition feeding devices. In addition, the bill will significantly strengthen the current federal assault weapons ban by clarifying the definition of the term “assault weapon.” Furthermore, the bill would ban conversion parts kits; regulate “grandfathered” assault weapons and enhance the tracing of such weapons; and prohibit juvenile possession.


S. 1034 introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), will repeal the sunset date on the 1994 Federal Assault

Weapons Ban. The bill will also ban the importation of large capacity ammunition feeding devices.

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