The debate ran on CNNfn, Friday, February 27, 2004

Big Story: Getting A Bead On The New Gun Control Law

SHOW: THE FLIPSIDE 11:00 AM Eastern Standard Time

Friday Transcript # 022702cb.l32

SECTION: Business

LENGTH: 3893 words

HEADLINE: Big Story: Getting A Bead On The New Gun Control Law, CNNfn

GUESTS: Jon Lowy, John Lott, Jr.

BYLINE: Kathleen Hays, Gerri Willis, Greg Clarkin

BODY: KATHLEEN HAYS, CNNfn ANCHOR, THE FLIPSIDE: This is THE FLIPSIDE. I'm Kathleen Hays. Joining me are Gerri Willis and Greg Clarkin. Our big story today, another gun bill in Congress, this time one that would shield gun makers from liability suits. Think about tobacco think about automobiles. Should gun makers be liable when a gun kills somebody? It's a debate that's front and center. We're going to have two guests obviously on both sides of the issues.

GERRI WILLIS, CNNfn ANCHOR, THE FLIPSIDE: This has been contentious for a number of reasons. As you know, big debate over how guns should be sold, where they should be sold, can they be sold out of the back of somebody's car, for example? And today we'll actually be talking about what kind of liability, like tobacco makers, should they have.

GREG CLARKIN, CNNfn ANCHOR, THE FLIPSIDE: You know they said they need it to shield them from frivolous and junk lawsuits. And as you mentioned what other industry gets that kind of pass?

. . . .

Let's go on to our big story now. Earlier this week the Senate voted to take up a White-House back bill, which provide immunity to gun manufactures and dealers. The measure protects firearms manufactures and dealers from lawsuits as long as they do no sell defective weapons or violate any law.

A lawsuit filed against a Washington state gun dealer by victims of the families of the sniper attacks is one of the cases being debated in regards to this bill.

Joining us now from Washington with more is Jon Lowy, senior attorney with The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and John Lott Jr., author of " Bias Against Guns."

JOHN LOTT, JR., AUTHOR, "The Bias Against Guns:" Good morning.

HAYS: Good morning, great to see both of you here on THE FLIPSIDE. So Jon Lowy, why don't we start with you? Obviously a proponent of this bill, why is it so important? Why do you think it would do anything to stop gun violence?

JON LOWY, SR. ATTORNEY, BRADY CENTER TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: Well, we oppose this bill. This is absolutely outrageous. We have an epidemic of gun violence in this country. With about 30,000 Americans dying from guns every year, every day, 10 children and teenagers dying. And what is the U.S. Senate thinking of doing? They're thinking of giving immunity to negligent gun dealers and negligent gun manufacturers.

And immunity that no other industry in America has. As you mentioned, the sniper case. The snipers terrorized the D.C. area and nation for three weeks in October. And now we know that the gun dealer in that case, quote, lost the assault weapon that the snipers used. It also lost 237 other guns. This as a grossly irresponsible negligent gun dealer.

The court in Washington State has already held that that gun dealer can be held liable and negligent. If this bill would throw the D.C. sniper victims out of court and give that gun dealer immunity from negligence law, and that is simply an outrage, the American government has never done that before.

WILLIS: Let's give John Lott an opportunity to speak on this topic. John, why shouldn't gun manufacturers and sellers be liable, you know, tobacco makers for example, being liable as well. It seems like the way of the world. What's wrong with that logic?

LOTT: Well, they would be liable. This is a limited immunity bill. This isn't a strict immunity bill as has been implied several times here. I don't think that most Americans think that Ford Motor (Company: Ford Motor Company ; Ticker: F ; URL: or General Motors (Company: General Motors Corporation; Ticker: GM; URL: should be liable if a driver gets into an accident and kills a pedestrian. Because he's speeding. But that's the types of suits that we're talking about that are constantly occurring against the gun makers.

LOWY: That's simply not true. That's not the D.C. sniper case; the D.C. sniper case is a perfect example.

HAYS: OK guys just a second. Let -- Jon Lowy, let John Lott finish, and then we'll get right to you for a response.

LOTT: This is hardly extreme legislation. You have nine members of the House who voted for this, and a 100 voting record for gun control from the Brady Campaign from this gentleman's organization. You have members of the Senate who are sponsors of this, let alone just voting for it, who have records of 92 percent supporting gun control according to the Brady Campaign's own numbers there.

I mean, you can still allow a suit if the product -- civil suit, if the product's defective if any type of federal or state law's been violated, you -- and if you knowingly sell to a criminal who goes and uses it in a crime. And if a law's been broken in the Washington case, those types of civil actions would still be possible in addition to any type of criminal actions.


CLARKIN: John Lott, give me the numbers, if you can, for the case for this. How many lawsuits does the gun industry face every year? What percentage of those would be done away with under this bill?

LOTT: Well, I think a large percent of them would be done away with. The city suits, you've had 33 cities plus the state of New York have tried to bring these suits. These are not normal types of liability cases that are brought.

CLARKIN: What is the normal type of liability case?

LOTT: Well a normal type of liability case, if you try to balance both the costs and the benefits and try to argue that the product has greater costs than benefits. In this case what they're saying is the city will say if there's some harm that occurred in the city, and the city's had to bear some type of medical costs or police have had to spend some time, then the manufacturers of the gun should be liable for picking up those costs.

That makes just as much sense as letting gun makers sue the cities for any benefits that the city gets because people are able to defend themselves with guns and therefore you don't have to spend money on police or medical care.

CLARKIN: Jon, let me go over to you if I can.

LOWY: Let's talk about some real cases that would actually be barred by this bill instead of the fantasyland that Mr. Lott's talking about. The sniper case that is a real case, a gun dealer that, quote, lost 238 guns and enabled the snipers to get an assault rifle. That was negligence. A court has held that is negligence. That case would be thrown out.

Lloyd Cutler former White House counsel concluded that, David Boys (ph) concluded that, everyone has agreed on that. Professors around the country have agreed on that. Another real case, two law enforcement officers, Ken Maguire (ph) and Dave Lemongello (ph) in New Jersey they were shot and almost killed. Why? Because a gun dealer in West Virginia sold 12 guns to a straw (ph) purchasing team where a drug-addicted woman came into a store with felon and together they bought these 12 guns, everyone knew that that was a bad deal.

Those guns were headed to the streets. A judge in West Virginia has held that gun dealer can be liable in negligence. They would be thrown out. For that reason, their police officers, chiefs and major organizations around the country that have held that this -- have stated that this bill should not become law because it will threaten law enforcement. Another case, a gun manufacturer hired a drug-addicted -- drug-addicted criminals to work in their plant.

HAYS: OK, Jon you stated all the cases. We'll give John Lott a quick response and then we want to get to the phones.

LOTT: I mean this is untrue. The legislation says if you knowingly sell to a criminal, you just gave a case in West Virginia where you say everybody knew they were selling to a criminal. If that's true and if you can prove that rather than just make the claim, then you could still bring a suit under that legislation.

LOWY: That's a standard that no other industry has.

LOTT: But you just claimed that's what happened. I'm saying you misrepresented what type of suits would be stopped.

LOWY: No, there was -- great --


WILLIS: Let's go the phones because there are people who want to ask both of you questions. Ron in Pennsylvania.

Please, go right ahead, Ron.

CALLER: First of all, I'd like to say to Mr. Lott, I've read all of his writings. And Mr. Lott, I support you 100 percent. I'm a retired federal agent. I worked on the Unbomber case. I arrested a lot of people who never had a permit in Massachusetts who were armed and either plead guilty to lesser crimes or were never indicted. But back to the issue of what the Senate is debating right now.

Mr. Lowy what they have now, with all these drunk lawsuits around the country, would be like suing General Motors because somebody here in Pennsylvania had a DWI crash last night. The thing is, the manufacturer can do nothing with an end user five, or 10, or even two years after the sale. Now, if you know there are school purchases going down, I suggest that you give that to the U.S. attorney in that district and go for prosecution. Mr. Lott, you can answer better than me, sir.

LOWY: Well, I think the question -- I mean, the fact that's another -- that's a fantasyland version of what these cases are about. If the NRA and the gun lobby really wanted to prohibit the sorts of cases you're talking about, they could have a bill that said, a gun manufacturer can't be liable if all they did was sell a gun used in a crime, that isn't what they did.

They made a much broader bill and we're talking about negligence cases, and you're right that the law enforcement should prosecute bad dealers. However, one problem is they don't have resources to do it all, they should. And secondly, you should have incentives; dealers should have incentives so they do the right thing before the damage is done.

WILLIS: Right.

LOWY: They should think about the human costs of their transactions before they do them.

WILLIS: Let's get to the caller's question here for just a second. Should there be tighter controls on the way guns are sold in this country?

HAYS: To John Lott.

WILLIS: John Lott.

LOTT: Guns are already about the most regulated product in the country.

WILLIS: Are they regulated enough, though?

LOTT: Well, my concern is they may be regulated too much. Look, we all want to take guns away from criminals. But the problem that you face here is that a lot of types of laws are more likely to be obeyed by law-abiding citizens and not criminals. And the problem is, is that if you disarm, law- abiding citizens relative to criminals, you can actually see increases in violent crime rates.

The types of amendments being put forward on this bill, essentially poison pill type things, it's not whether you look at the so-called -- the semiautomatic gun ban that's there or whether you look at the gun show regulations that they're trying to put on or the ammunition bans that they're trying to put on.

There's not one academic study in a referee journal that can be pointed to that finds that any of those types of rules reduce violent crime rates of any type.

CLARKIN: John, let me strip away some of the emotional debate of it. Obviously there's a very big component of that. But at the end of the day, it's an industry story; it's a lobbying story. Give me some sense as to how many lawsuits there are this year versus last year. Why does the gun industry feel right now is the time for this?

LOTT: Well, you have the Brady Campaign, which Mr. Lowy's representing. They get several million dollars a year from George Soros. They're constantly bringing suits; essentially I mean you're talking about small companies. I mean, some places like Colt (ph) before they went out of making handguns, a very vulnerable manufacturer. The most they were making was, like, $2.5 million a year.

The theory behind these suits isn't that they win. They lose these suits constantly. But what happens is by simultaneously bringing so many different suits and so many different venues across the country, and using money from a billionaire essentially to go and finance the costs of these suits, they essentially bleed these companies dry, causing them to go out of business and to make it so that retailers are refusing to go and sell their products.

WILLIS: OK, lets get to the callers again.

LOWY: If you want to talk actual numbers first of all, there's approximately 1 million tort suits filed in courts every year. Do you know how many of them are gun suits of the sort that would be banned by this bill? Given the last ten years approximately 5.7 a year.


LOWY: So, --

LOTT: Well we've had like 35 major suits since '98.


LOWY: A 10-year span 57.

WILLIS: We'd love to squeeze in another caller to talk with you.

Rita from California, go right ahead.

CALLER: Good morning.

WILLIS: Good morning.

CALLER: Thank you for taking our call. And also your guests for coming on a very difficult subject. I'm in California, so boy; we get all the gun things first. And it really hasn't helped, but the main topic I wanted to ask was, didn't the government already change the restrictions for gun dealers quite a bit in the past couple years to help try and cut this problem down?

Once again, we really can't say what anyone's going to do, whether it's a pitchfork they buy at the store and take home or a hammer or anything else when it comes to acts of violence. It still depends on the individual what they do with that product when they leave the store. Thank you again for taking our call.

LOWY: The question is about reasonable care. The question is, do you think that if you're a gun dealer, you should use reasonable care? And do you think that if, for instance, someone walks into your gun store and says, "I want to buy 12 or 112 or 212 guns, should you ask no questions, simply hand over the guns, pocket the cash. When everyone should know that those guns are likely headed for the streets?

Now, if you or I did that sale, we could be sued for negligence. In fact, even after this bill -- if this bill is passed, John Lott and I could be sued for a negligence sale because we're not -- we're not licensed dealers. If we're licensed dealers, we'd have immunity.

HAYS: John Lott, quick response.

LOTT: He keeps on using the term "negligence" here. You have to understand, this is a term that is being used completely differently than it's been used in liability cases in the past. What they're saying is, is that if a product sold and there's some chance in the case of guns, you may be talking about 0.01 of 1 percent of guns are ever used in the commission of a crime. But because you know that 0.01 of 1 percent can be used, when you sell a gun, and if it ever turns out to be used improperly, then that's negligence. I mean, you can imagine if you applied that to cars.

HAYS: OK, guys OK, quiet. Guys, we're going to go on to the next caller. We want to get another caller in.

CLARKIN: Randall in Tennessee standing by.

Randall, welcome and jump in here, please.

CALLER: Mr. Lowy this question is directly for you. With all the gun laws we currently have on the books, why aren't more prosecutions done for those who are turned down to purchase a gun? I understand that percentage is extremely small.

LOWY: I would like to ask that question to Attorney General Ashcroft who is now in charge of the ATF, it's under his jurisdiction. I agree with you, there should be more prosecutions. It's bipartisan; I think under any administration there should be more prosecutions. ATF should have more resources. And the NRA has done a good job in making it tougher for ATF to enforce gun laws. So we definitely should do that.

But on the other side of the equation, there also should be civil remedies. This bill would make victims of gun violence second-class citizens who don't have the same civil rights to seek justice in the courts that anyone else has. Congress has never done that with any other class of citizens.

We're not doing it with terrorists, we're not doing it with criminals, and we're doing it with victims of gun violence. That is an outrage.


LOWY: And Mr. Lott simply, we're talking about real negligence cases that judges, not John Lott, the judges have held to be held to be negligence cases?

LOTT: If it was true that laws were violated in those cases, then in all those case suits could have still been brought.

LOWY: But that's not the civil justice standard. That's not civil justice standard, that isn't with negligence means, sir.

LOTT: This is hardly extreme. As I said you have nine members of the House that voted for this. They have perfect gun control records, according to your group.

LOWY: Well, that's not arguing whether the bill --

LOTT: No, but I'm saying -

HAYS: All right.

LOTT: To go and say this is extreme, to go and say Charlie Rangel from New York City who voted for this, I would say that they would believe that you are completely mis-characterizing this law.

HAYS: Can we get to another caller, guys?

CLARKIN: Hold on a second. Did Charlie Rangel vote for this for an amendment maybe or something?

LOTT: No, he voted for the final bill when it was on the floor.

LOWY: I don't know what Charlie Rangel did. I do know do that groups around the country -- every major religious group, every major school group, every major police group --

LOTT: Of course you know.

HAYS: OK, good. One more caller.

LOWY: Is against this bill.

HAYS: One more caller.

WILLIS: William in Texas please go ahead. William in Texas.

CALLER: Yes, this is for Mr. Lott. I don't know -- you spoke about the assault weapons ban earlier.

LOTT: Right.

CALLER: Do you remember the percentage of assault weapons that were used in crimes any way? They saw pretty nothing when they did the ban on those. If you were to go out and kill someone, you'd buy a shotgun to start with. I just wondered if you remember that percentage.

LOTT: Sir no. I mean the Clinton administration has put out these types of numbers where they've gone and surveyed prisoners to try to find out what types of guns they had access to. You're talking about 1 percent of the guns that were there.

But more importantly, the types of characteristics that were in these guns that were banned, they're semi automate guns. These are not machine guns. We keep on getting these things that -- this is a made-up term, these assault weapons or military-style. This is not a term that even existed with guns prior to 1990. They'd say based on having certain features such as whether you have a ban net mount or a pistol grip on the gun there. There's no evidence --


CALLER: They were banned more for the way they looked than what they did.

LOWY: That is right.

LOTT: Or the name of the gun.

HAYS: Gentlemen, I'm sorry, we have to leave it. And wish we could go further. I want to thank you both for carrying on a very spirited, and at the same time, intelligent debate. We've touched on so many issues.

We thank you. Jon Lowy, we thank you, John Lott. It's an important debate. We're so glad you could bring it to THE FLIPSIDE today.

LOTT: Thank you.

LOWY: Thank you.


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