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Industry News: February 2004
by Robert Hausman

The recent announcement that Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, the Democratic senator from South Dakota, who usually votes against pro-gun legislation, has voiced his support for Senate bill S.659, entitled the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” has led many industry figures to believe passage of the measure (which would end the frivolous lawsuits masterminded by anti-gun groups) seems certain.

In addition, the Democratic whip in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, another politician who usually votes for gun control, has thrown his support behind S.659 as well.

In announcing his support for the bill, Daschle said, “The vast majority of gun owners, manufacturers and sellers are honest and law-abiding. It is wrong - and it is a misuse of the civil justice system - to try to punish honest, law-abiding people for illegal acts committed by others without their knowledge or involvement. That’s not the way we do things in America. We don’t hold innocent people responsible for acts they are not involved in and over which they have no control.”

The wave of politically-motivated lawsuits which began in earnest in 1989, while not successful in the courts, have aided the cause of anti-gun groups by having the effect of keeping new products off the US market as a consequence of fears by firearms manufacturers and marketers, situated both domestically and abroad, of being sued by municipalities and injured plaintiffs, aided by such highly-organized and well-funded groups as the Legal Action Project of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence. The high cost of product liability insurance resulting from the suits has also caused the withdrawal of many firearm designs from the market, or kept foreign produced firearms from being imported into the US.

The bill, S.659, would not hinder suits where negligence, defective products or criminal acts are involved. President Bush has indicated he would sign the legislation if it reaches his desk. The US House of Representatives passed the measure in April by a 285-to-140 vote. More than 30 states have already enacted similar legislation, but the industry believes federal legislation is needed to ensure an end to the suits nation-wide. State laws are more subject to change than are federal regulations. For example, the state of California, a major firearm market, which had a state law prohibiting such “junk lawsuits” against the industry for many years, recently repealed its measure.

It should be noted Daschle’s support for S.659 is conditional upon passage of an amendment to allow future claims arising from defective products or when illegal sales of firearms are made (such as instances in which a retailer transfers a firearm to a prohibited purchaser, such as a convicted felon). “The broad coalition supporting this bill does not intend the legislation to provide blanket immunity to ‘bad actors,’” Daschle commented.

Despite Daschle’s support, a group of hard-core anti-gun Democrats have pledged to filibuster the bill. A successful filibuster would block the bill from being brought to a final vote. One of these, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, denounced the bill as “shameful.”

Daschle will offer the amendment addressing his concerns with the solidly pro-gun Republican Senator from Idaho, Larry Craig, and with the “sometime friend” of the industry and gun owners (depending on which way the political winds are blowing) Sen. Max Baucus, the Democrat from Montana.

While Senate passage of S.659 seems certain, the bill’s future will largely depend on how many votes the bill’s opponents can muster to mount a filibuster.

US Handgun Importation Rising

Despite the problems handgun marketers have faced in recent years with municipal and special interest group litigation and the growing high cost of product liability insurance, a five-year analysis of US handgun importation statistics shows handgun imports are on the rise. In point of fact, during the five-year period from 1998 to 2002, handgun imports rose from a reported total of 572,487 units in 1998 to 971,562 in 2002, according to US federal government statistics.

US handgun imports stood at 572,487 units in 1998 carrying a customs value of $114,473,372. In 1999, the total number of imported handguns rose to 666,491 worth $123,942,778. The following year, some 712,662 handguns were imported into the US with a declared value of $130,877,100.

In 2001, the total handguns imported remained flat as 712,005 units were brought in with a value of $119,788,821. The year 2002 saw another dramatic rise, as the total units imported rose to 971,562, carrying a total value as reported to US Customs of $149,720,720.

In reviewing the numbers of guns brought in from individual countries, firearm imports from Canada grew significantly during the last five years.

In 1998, just 11,098 handguns were imported into the US from Canada. In 1999, this figure climbed to 14,041 and to 15,151 in the year 2000. In 2001, the total jumped to 23,458 and in 2002 the total skyrocketed to 43,374. The total for 2002 was nearly four times the amount brought in during 1998, and was nearly double the figure for 2001.

Imports from Brazil stood at 133,270 handguns in 1998. The total grew to 154,542 in 1999 and inched up to 160,548 in the year 2000. In 2001, the total declined to 135,267 but shot up to 229,528 in 2002.

Handgun imports from Germany totaled 107,232 in 1998 and declined to a 99,297 units in 1999. The total rose in 2000 to 114,876, but declined again in 2001 to 93,418. During 2002, however, German handgun imports came on strong with a total of 139,126, the highest in the last five years.

The total number of handguns imported from Austria to the US in 1998 was 170,240. The following year the total moved up to 210,996. In 2000, the total climbed to 245,869. In 2001, Austrian handgun importation dropped to 234,330 but rose back up to 257,255 in 2002. The total number of handguns brought in from Austria in each of the years 2000 and 2002 were nearly double that of 1998’s total.

Handgun imports from the Czech Republic have risen and fallen and risen again over the last five years. In 1998, 28,393 units came to the US In 1999, the total dropped to 11,498 but rose in 2000 to 19,006 units. In 2001, the total grew to 27,874, but fell back to 21,010 in 2002.

US importation of handguns from Italy stood at 41,071 units for 1998. In 1999, the figure dipped to 37,002, but rose to 41,325 in 2000. In 2001, the total climbed to 58,564 but fell back to 49,870 in 2002.

More Information Available

For those readers seeking more information on imports as well as exports, The International Firearms Trade, the monthly business journal for the global firearms marketer, regularly publishes statistical information on US firearm and ammunition imports and exports. In addition to the 12-page IFT newsletter, a statistical import and export research report subscription service is available providing highly detailed monthly reports on where US firearms and ammunition imports are arriving in the US, as well as their ports of origin. The US export report service provides monthly details on the destination countries for various US firearms, ammunition and related goods. A 1-year subscription to IFT is just $72. FAX your subscription request to 802-751-8268. Or e-mail to: INTLFT@AOL.COM Credit cards accepted.

Ruger Continues 30-Year Legal Winning Streak

Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. has achieved another defense verdict in its favor in a product liability case, marking the latest in a unanimous series of jury verdicts finding no product defects.

This latest triumph came on October 6th, when an Alaska jury unanimously found that the design of the Ruger M77 bolt-action rifle was reasonably safe and contained no design or manufacturing defects. The case was Whaley v. Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. 3AN-97-03022CI and 3AN-98-8716CI , in the Superior Court for the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District at Anchorage. This verdict continues Sturm, Ruger’s winning product liability trial record. The company has won each and every product liability case involving products it has manufactured during the last thirty years.

“This latest jury verdict reinforces our strong commitment to the design and manufacture of safe, quality firearms,” said Sturm, Ruger president, Stephen L. Sanetti. “Our unblemished record in court is due in no small part to our many ongoing product safety measures. To those who falsely claim otherwise, I would ask them to look at what jurors across the country have found. This company cares deeply about the safety of our customers and produces firearms which are safe for reasonably intended uses.”

This latest defense verdict involved a gunshot wound to the hand of a hunter who was wiping down his loaded rifle with one hand placed over the muzzle, directly contrary to common-sense firearms safety rules. The rifle’s safety was in the “fire” position at the time the gun discharged. Testimony showed that the plaintiff was wiping off the area around the trigger immediately prior to his unfortunate shooting.

“While we, of course, feel tremendous sympathy toward the plaintiff, we cannot condone such egregious violations of basic firearms safety. A firearm cannot think; if a shooter presses the trigger with the safety ‘off,’ the gun will fire. Only the shooter can control what the firearm is pointed at. The jury wisely recognized this basic truth,” Sanetti added.

Firearms accidents nationwide are at an all-time low, according to the National Safety Council’s recently released report, Injury Facts-2003. Ruger’s experience mirrors this trend. Out of over 20 million firearms manufactured by Sturm, Ruger, only four product liability lawsuits are currently pending. This is the lowest number in the history of the company since product liability cases began in the early 1970’s.

Business Notes

ATF Form 4473 Error

ATF announces a printing error has occurred on ATF Form 4473 Firearms Transaction Record Part I - Over-The-Counter, which is used by buyers when purchasing firearms from licensed dealers. On some of these 4473 forms, the form number; date of release(month/year); and the language, “previous editions are obsolete,” were inadvertently left off by the printer. ATF is advising retailers that the forms cannot be used. To order replacement forms, contact the ATF Distribution Center either by telephone at 703-455-7801; placing an order on-line via the ATF web site at www.atf.gov; or by submitting an ATF F 1370.2, Requisition For Firearms/Explosives Forms.

Gun Store Burglars Caught

The persons believed responsible for committing a string of five gun store burglaries in the Houston and Harris County, Texas areas, which netted at least 119 firearms, worth an estimated $100,000 have been caught. Bill Carter, principal of Carter’s Country, one of the area’s largest retailers, was one of those hit and lost about $30,000 worth of guns.

Dissatisfied with the progress being made in the investigation by police, Carter got in touch with his local chapter of CrimeStoppers, which posted a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators and got the crimes and the reward offer publicized on local television stations. Carter put up an additional $5,000, raising the reward to $10,000. Within days, tips came in resulting in the capture of the suspects.

Ruger, Davidson’s Team for NRA

Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. has joined with Davidson’s to help permanently endow the National Rifle Association’s Basic Marksmanship Training and Instructor Certification programs. Their goal is to raise $250,000 through the sale of William B. Ruger Endowment Special NRA Edition Mark II .22 caliber pistols. Some $25 from each pistol’s sale will go to The NRA Foundation William B. Ruger Endowment. These NRA edition pistols are available exclusively through Davidson’s Gallery of Guns web site.

Distributors Join Campaign Distributors Camfour, RSR Group and Sports South have added the “Save Our Industry” logo to their web sites. to give incentive to customers to write their US Senators in support of Senate bill S.659, which would end the frivolous lawsuits against the industry.

FBI May Get Priority in Explosives Cases

In the latest chapter in the turf war between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, the Justice Dept., overseer of both agencies, is considering giving the FBI control of all cases involving explosives.

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