WASHINGTON – Tom Mauser,whose son died at Columbine High School,joined gun industry opponents on Capitol Hill Tuesday to denounce a bill to protect gun manufacturers and sellers from lawsuits.
Citing President Bush's recent call for the country to “err on the side of life” when he spoke about Terri Schiavo,members of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence unveiled a television ad that urges the public to press Congress not to pass the bill.
John Lowy,Brady senior attorney,said the bill would take away a victim's ability to seek damages when a gun manufacturer or gun seller is negligent.
“That is all these victims of gun violence want,their right to their day in court,” Lowy said at a press conference. “They will then accept the verdict of the judicial system,win or lose,but many in Congress want to deprive them of that right.”
Several families of victims of gun violence spoke,including Mauser,whose son,Daniel,was among 13 people killed at Columbine High School by fellow students Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris on April 20,1999.
“I'm outraged at the nerve of the gun lobby and some members of Congress,” he said. “I'm here because I'm a victim of gun violence who doesn't like to have his rights taken away.”
Later in the afternoon,he traveled to suburban Fairfax County,Va.,to the National Rifle Association headquarters in hopes of receiving a response to a letter he wrote to the organization shortly after his son's death. He arrived to locked doors and no response from anyone at the headquarters. He said he remained on the property,picketing with a sign with a picture of his son and the words,“My son died at Columbine. He'd expect me to be here today.”
After about 30 minutes,Mauser said Fairfax police arrived and arrested him for trespassing. He was later released. Fairfax police could not be reached to confirm the arrest late Tuesday.
It was an exact repeat of his visit to the NRA headquarters June 13,2001. Charges for trespassing that day were dropped two months later.
“It's been six years,and they're still unwilling to talk to people who've been victims of gun violence,” he said. “I'm going to keep at it.”
The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act has been on the Senate calendar since February for a possible vote. Sponsored by Sen. Larry Craig,R-Idaho,and Rep. Cliff Stearns,R-Fla.,it has 53 co-sponsors in the Senate and 199 in the House. Supporters and opponents disagree about the effect of the bill's language.
“To give blanket immunity to people who have repeatedly sold guns to criminals is an outrage that most Americans would not accept,” said Sen. Charles Schumer,D-N.Y. Schumer was joined by Sen. Jack Reed,D-R.I.,and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy,D-N.Y.,in speaking against the bill.
Kelly Hobbs,spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association,said that the bill does not provide a “blanket immunity.”
“That is absolutely not true,” she said. “If a firearm is defective,or if a manufacturer or dealer breaks the law,a victim will still be able to file suit.”
The bill's wording includes protection for gun manufacturers and sellers from “a civil action or proceeding or an administrative proceeding,” which opponents fear could extend as far as preventing investigations by the Bureau of Alcohol,Tobacco,Firearms and Explosives.
However,it denies immunity to sellers convicted of a crime or in cases of negligence when a seller “knows … the person to whom the product is supplied is likely to,and does,use the product in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical injury to the person or others.”
Hobbs said the bill is aimed at freeing up the legal system and protecting legitimate businesses.
“The whole purpose of the bill is to save lawful American businesses who are being sued based on the actions of criminals who misuse a legal product,” she said.