Gun-Control Advocates against Liability Bill

The subject matter, which shall be considered in this paper, is about Product Liability Bill of year 1998, which was changed in order to protect the needs of small businesses. It caused extreme disturbance among gun-control advocates, for it also protected “small businesses” of gun manufacturers.

The Product Liability Bill, which was scheduled for vote in Senate in July, 1998, caused extreme discontent of trial lawyers, who opposed the bill, and at the same time it caused satisfaction of the National Federation of Independent Business, that strongly supported it. This bill could let most of gun manufacturers win the lawsuits, which were started against them. The main problem about the bill was that it was made in order to protect the needs and interests of small businesses, instead of that this legislation could be applied to many gun manufacturers who produce a great quantity of firearms every year. The Product Liability Bill was created in order to define the damages paid by companies of various sizes. It was negotiated with the help of White House, in an agreement with Senator John D. Rockefeller 4th, Democrat of West Virginia, and Senator Slade Gorton, Republican of Washington. According to the bill’s new version, small businesses are those that have less than 25 employees and have income of no more than $5 million per year. Kristen Rand, the VPC's director of federal policy (1998), stated “Most Americans think of a small business as Mom and Pop's candy store, not Davis Industries, which churns out anywhere from 50,000 to 175,000 Saturday Night Specials in one year”(p.1).

Another problem about Liability Bill is that it puts a limitation of $250,000 on the punitive damages that would be paid by small businesses in cases involving defective products. Gun-control advocates were worried that the exemplary damages limits set for small businesses would mess up their plans on holding the gun industry under control, as anti-smoking forces have previously done it regarding the tobacco industry. By taking the previous tobacco cases as a basis for the firearms cases anti-gun forces were trying to solve the problem of the bill, – that way their main goal was to prove that manufacturers are selling a dangerous product and that they realize this fact. This way it did not matter, whether the guns were defective or not.

However, Richard Feldman, executive director of the American Shooting Sports Council, which represented the gun industry, had doubts on this matter. According to Seelye (1998), he said: ''There's a very important distinction between tobacco and firearms. When you use tobacco as it is intended to be used, it is harmful; when you use a firearm as intended, not only is it not harmful to the user, it can save the user's life''(p.2).

Talking of Senate, views of different Senators varied. For example, many Democrats and some of Republicans from suburb could had quite a problem with this bill, for they tried to support small businesses, and at the same time, the support of gun control could bring them many votes at election. Two Democratic Senators, Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey and Dianne Feinstein of California,  proposed to exempt the gun makers from the small businesses’ protections offered by the Liability bill (Seelye, 1998, p.2). That proposal could solve the problem – the owners of small businesses, except for those, who manufacture guns, would be satisfied, and at the same time, the gun industry would be accountable.

Everything about firearms selling is a very important matter. Such legislations as Product Liability Bill could make life easier for small businesses’ owners in various business areas, and at the same time it could make it for people, injured because of defective guns, almost impossible to win the lawsuits against gun manufacturers. Such bills should be thoroughly thought through in order for them not to make harm.

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