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NRA Proposes Legislation To Protect Gunmakers from Lawsuits

By Sharon Walsh
The Washington Post

Moving swiftly, the National Rifle Association has succeeded in getting legislation under way in at least 10 states that would preclude local governments from suing gun manufacturers and distributors. The latest bill, proposed earlier this week in Florida, is the toughest so far, making it a felony for any local official to file such a lawsuit.

The Florida bill, expected to advance rapidly, would make it a crime punishable by up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine for any local government official or employee to file suit against gun makers. The bill includes a retroactive provision that would quash a suit filed by Miami-Dade County in January that seeks to hold gunmakers liable for what the city spends on police and county hospital services because of gun violence. It would also prevent suits from at least two other Florida cities, Tampa and St. Petersburg, that are considering taking gun manufacturers to court.

"We are responsible for the Florida legislation," said James J. Baker, chief lobbyist for the NRA, which has joined hands with the gun industry to fight the lawsuits.

"We think this is an outrageous attempt to prevent Miami-Dade from asserting the legal rights of its citizens," said Dennis Henigan, legal director of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, a non-profit organization that is helping Miami in its lawsuit. "We allow ordinary citizens and cities to assert their rights in court. If a suit is frivolous, the courts have a right to sanction.But we don't threaten people with jail," he said, noting that the Florida bill could lead to jailing the mayor of Miami.

Gun-control activists have said that some of the state bills are likely to be challenged in court.

Encouraged by the passage in a matter of weeks of a bill to prevent gun suits in Georgia and worried by a recent landmark jury decision in Brooklyn where gunmakers were successfully held liable for negligence in marketing handguns the NRA and others have moved quickly to head off more lawsuits. Legislation also has been or is about to be introduced in Texas, Michigan, Kansas, Vermont, Wyoming, Louisiana, Minnesota and Alabama.