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Industry News: September 2004
by Robert M. Hausman

Fed Bill Would Ease 1968 GCA Restrictions

Among the recently introduced federal legislation affecting the firearms business, probably the most significant proposal is H.R. 4048, the “Firearms Commerce Modernization Act” introduced by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA). It would update federal law to take advantage of modern technology by allowing consumers to purchase handguns interstate and to allow FFL-holders to transfer firearms among one another through in-person transactions.

When the Gun Control Act of 1968 was enacted, the only way to screen criminal records or other disqualifications of potential firearms buyers was at the state level, so Congress passed a broad ban on interstate sales to allow state enforcement of various permit and license systems. Today, however, all retail gun sales through licensed dealers involve an FBI background check, either for issuance of a state permit or as an instant check at the point-of-sale. The “Firearm Commerce Modernization Act” would allow interstate handgun sales, provided all other federal or state laws (in both involved states) are abided. Congress previously removed the original 1968 Gun Control Act prohibitions against interstate purchase of long guns and ammunition years ago.

The proposed bill would also remove convoluted limits on licensed dealers, so that dealers could carry out the same transactions in person that they currently perform with one another by mail or courier, even though transactions involving the shipment of firearms create a much greater risk that guns may be lost or stolen during shipment.

Federal bill H.R. 3193. The “District of Columbia Personal Protection Act,” introduced by Reps. Mark Souder (R-IN) and Mike Ross (D-AR), already has 178 co-sponsors. This bill would restore the right of self-defense to law-abiding citizens of Washington, D.C., so that those citizens could own rifles, shotguns and handguns without the current bureaucratic registration requirements. Most importantly, notes the National Rifle Association, the bill would allow law-abiding District residents to use firearms to protect their homes and families, a right currently denied by the D.C. Code.

Similar legislation was proposed recently by Rep. Orin Hatch (R-UT) but was withdrawn after protests were voiced by the D.C. city government.

H.R. 3801, the “First Amendment Restoration Act”, introduced by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), would repeal the most offensive provision of the recent campaign finance “reform” law - the prohibition on use of non-PAC money for broadcast communications that use the name or likeness of a federal candidate. The present law allows candidates for elective office to shield their anti-gun records from the public on the eve of election.

Barr: Liability Reform Dead in Current Congress

The firearms industry missed “a golden opportunity” to enact liability reform legislation in the current Congress and “I am not at all optimistic that the opportunity will present itself again in this Congress,” former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) told SAR in a recent interview.

“The anti’s feel rather emboldened by their success and will attempt to stall and or load this bill down with unacceptable amendments if it comes up again,” Barr predicts.

Much of the blame for the bill’s failure, Barr feels, can be laid at the feet of the Bush Administration.

“If the Administration had gone to bat with this, that might have made all the difference. To say that they (the Administration) did not do enough to get this bill passed is an understatement. But, the President is a man who understands and sincerely believes in the Second Amendment. However, that’s not what we see happening in terms of the policies of this Administration,” Barr disclosed.

In regard to the question of whether the Clinton-era ban on so-called “assault weapons” will be renewed, Barr feels much depends on the Republican leadership of the U.S. Senate.

“If the anti-gun lobby is emboldened by their success in sinking the gun liability bill and really mounts a serious effort to pass the reauthorization of the Clinton gun ban in the Senate, that could pose a real problem as if it passes in the Senate, there would be a great deal of momentum to push the House to adopt it by possibly orchestrating a discharge petition in the House which would not require the consent of the House Republican leadership. Thus, they could force a bill directly to the floor without going through committee. That could be a real problem as the legislation would have already passed the Senate and the Administration already being on record as saying if the legislation reaches the President’s desk he will sign it.

“That combination could provide cover for liberal and moderate Republicans to say ‘well, the President has said he will sign it, it has already passed the Senate, we are not really casting an anti-gun vote because, after all, the President is not anti-gun and he said he will sign this.’ It could be seen as sort of a free vote for the liberal and moderate Republicans in the House. On the House side, I feel confident the Republican leadership can prevent it from coming to the floor, unless, as I say, it passes the Senate first,” Barr detailed.

The Republican Line

When asked what alternative the industry has to throwing its support behind the re-election of George Bush since he has not been as forthright as he could have been on issues firearms firms feel are important, Barr replied, “Of course, the election of John Kerry would be much worse- and that’s what the Republican party always uses as the excuse for support of the Republican ticket, they say ‘the alternative is much worse.’ We get Republican administrations who don’t really do anything. They come to the Second Amendment community in each election cycle and say, ‘Vote for our ticket, as, after all, the alternative is far worse.’ And consequently, we get Republic administrations who could do a lot for the Second Amendment but don’t.

“Overall in the upcoming elections I think pro-gun candidates, Republican and Democrat, will continue to do very well. Kerry will very carefully continue to play both sides. He will, as he has been doing on his web site, try to champion himself as a great outdoor enthusiast and hunter and yet still push ‘common sense gun control.’ The Democrats have learned that coming out as anti-firearms is a loser for them. They feel they can triangulate their way through by talking about sportsmen and John Kerry’s military background and his understanding of firearms. So they will clothe themselves with a superficial legitimacy and then say they believe in ‘common sense gun control’. That’s the tact they will take and I think they will become relatively bold in those efforts,” Barr concluded.

Barr, who says he is not seeking elective office, addressed the industry during the Glock party at the 2004 SHOT Show. He speaks out on firearms and privacy issues and is available to address group meetings. His radio program, Bob Barr’s Laws of the Universe, is heard on Sundays, at 6 pm EST on Radio America. His web site address is: www.BobBarr.org

Colt’s Sues to Block ‘Copycat’ M4’s

Colt Defense LLC, supplier of the M4 carbine to the U.S. military, has filed suit against Heckler & Koch, Inc. and Bushmaster Firearms alleging the two firms are selling “copycat” versions of the design.

As part of its requested relief, Colt’s seeks a court order to prohibit Bushmaster and H&K from using the M4 name or design in any of their products. Colt claims Bushmaster’s XM-15 E2S “M4 Type” and H&K’s planned “HKM4” are “identical” to Colt’s product, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, Virginia.

Colt has sold more than 7 million M16 rifles and M4 carbines and the designs are in use in over 80 countries.

“Bushmaster has intentionally copied the names used by Colt’s and the look and feel of Colt’s M4 carbine in order to mislead the consuming public into believing that Bushmaster’s products are comparable to Colt’s,” says the lawsuit.

Oberndorf, Germany-based H&K last year expressed a “serious interest” in acquiring Colt’s and signed a confidentiality agreement to review Colt’s financial and technical information, the suit says. After receiving the information, H&K terminated discussions and later announced the “HKM4” which has “the same look and feel” as Colt’s M4, the suit says.

Colt Lockout Ends

Union workers have returned to their jobs at Colt’s Manufacturing Co. after a two-week lockout imposed in early April, following the expiration of their labor contract.

A three-year contract covering workers at Colt’s Manufacturing Co. and Colt Defense expired at midnight on April 1st, and the companies immediately sent second-shift workers home and turned away first-shift workers the next morning, The Hartford Courant recently reported.

“We told them a long time ago, that we would not let them work without a new contract, and we meant it,” said Carlton Chen, the gunmaker’s vice president and general counsel.

Union leaders said it was misguided to lock out workers while negotiations continue. “When I heard it, I thought it was an April Fool’s joke. I couldn’t believe the company did that,” said Phil Wheeler, regional director for the United Auto Workers, which represents the employees.

Colt’s was the site of one of Connecticut’s most contentious labor disputes. In January 1986, more than 1,000 of Colt’s workers walked off the job in what evolved into a four-year-long strike. During the strike, there were occasional clashes between police and picketers, and Colt’s asked West Hartford police to supplement the company’s security force at the front gate in the latest dispute.

“You know what? We don’t make toasters here. We make weapons. And the last thing we want is any kind of trouble. We obviously have to be very careful,” Chen said in explaining the police presence.

Wheeler said health benefits and job security are major issues. Colt’s is asking workers to pay a portion of their health insurance which Chen said is presently paid in full by the companies. Workers are also concerned about job security as Colt’s lease on its West Hartford plant expires in a couple of years.

The lockout affected 348 of nearly 500 employees at the companies. Chen said the companies are ahead of their manufacturing schedules, and that non-union supervisors were working production jobs during the lockout. Colt Defense, which manufactures military products, apprised the U.S. military of the labor problems.

Workers returned to their job on April 12th, working under the terms of their old contract while negotiations continued on a new agreement. “Frankly, we had a change of heart,” said Chen in explaining the decision to allow workers to return. “During the course of the lockout, we were negotiating and made some progress and I think it was a gesture of good faith.”

Wheeler said it was “good news” that workers were back on the job, but he added difficult negotiations lie ahead. “There are still a lot of issues holding us apart,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be anything that’s going to be settled overnight, but at least they’re working at it.” At press time, negotiations were still underway.

New Managing Director at SAAMI

The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) has named Rick Patterson as its managing director. Founded in 1926, SAAMI is an association of the nation’s leading manufacturers of sporting firearms, ammunition and components. Its work involves the publication of industry standards, coordination of technical data, and the promotion of safe and responsible firearms use. Patterson also works with the shooting range community on environmental and business issues through the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

Patterson steps into his new role following the retirement of SAAMI’s executive director, Lt. Gen. James Chambers, USAF (ret.) who had served in that job for five years. SAAMI’s headquarters, which had moved to Washington, D.C. during Chambers’ tenure, will be returning to NSSF’s Newtown, Connecticut office complex.

D.C. Suit Dismissal Sustained

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals recently sustained the trial court’s dismissal of negligent distribution and public nuisance claims brought by the City of Washington, D.C. against members of the firearms industry (District of Columbia, Appellant, v. Beretta USA et al, No. 03-CV-24).

In a related case, the court permitted nine individual plaintiffs to proceed against firearms manufacturers for alleged violations of the “Assault Weapon Manufacturing Strict Liability Act of 1990” (Lawson et al, v. Beretta USA et al, No. 03-CV-38).

The appellate court ruled that the city’s claims of negligence and public nuisance failed basic tests of duty, forseeability, and remoteness, citing as legal authority the numerous dismissals of other cities’ similar claims in other cases. As to the individual plaintiffs, the appellate court held that they had sufficiently pleaded a claim under Washington, D.C.’s “strict liability” act (in which liability could be found without fault) and that they should be permitted to proceed to discovery to attempt to prove their allegations that each was injured by the discharge of a specific “assault weapon or machinegun” as defined by the act. The court clearly contemplated dismissal of manufacturers after discovery for lack of evidence as to which specific product “caused plaintiffs injuries,” and reaffirmed that punitive damages are not available to plaintiffs under the act, according to an analysis by Sturm, Ruger & Co.

“While we were pleased that the court reached the correct decision on the city’s attempt to assert now largely-discredited legal theories of public nuisance and negligent distribution, we believe that the D.C. act upon which the remaining individual cases are based is flawed,” said Sturm, Ruger’s president, Stephen L. Sanetti. “Whether by further appeal or by discovery of the facts of these remaining individuals’ cases, the manufacturers should ultimately prevail.”

The author is the publisher of the small arms industry’s two most widely-read trade publications, The New Firearms Business (a bi-weekly which covers the domestic small arms industry) and The International Firearms Trade (a monthly newsletter primarily of interest to the import community). For subscription information, send an e-mail to: FirearmsB@aol.com.


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