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Guns: A Dealer's Responsibility

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Gun violence remains a national tragedy. Look no further than the recent Columbine-style shootings in Red Lake, Minn. The FBI reports gun deaths in the US are rising - 14 percent between 1999 and 2003. Eight children a day are killed in this country by guns, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Yet even with such startling figures, and just six months after Congress shamefully allowed the assault weapons ban to expire, the National Rifle Association (NRA) remains committed to supporting bills now pending in the House and Senate that would grant broad immunity from liability in civil lawsuits to gun manufacturers and dealers. Sen. Jack Reed (D) of Rhode Island rightly calls that "an unprecedented blanket protection that no other industry enjoys." And worse, the bills apparently are on a fast track, with a vote expected soon.

Both measures should fail.

One of the many problems with the bills: They include granting immunity to gun dealers who are reckless, some of whom even supply the criminal gun market. What's more, the civil damages claim brought by the families of victims in the 2002 D.C.-area sniper shootings could not have moved forward had these bills been law.

The gun dealer who allowed the sniper to get an assault rifle paid $2 million in compensation to the victims families' when the case was settled, and the manufacturer paid half a million. The company that manufactured the gun agreed to improve its dealers' sales practices - to help prevent criminals from obtaining guns - an effort they'd not made before.

Further, the gun used in those shootings came from a Washington-State gun shop, which had no record of the sale or a background check, neither had it reported the gun missing. US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) audits showed the shop had somehow "lost" 238 other guns over a three-year period. Hardly a frivolous matter.

Not all gun dealers, of course, are reckless, but the ATF reports over half of all guns used in crimes are purchased from just 1 percent of gun dealers. Clearly, they don't deserve the protection these bills would provide.

The NRA's political action committee and employees gave more than $1.15 million in the last election cycle; most of it to Republicans. If Congress passes these bills, members voting for them send yet another signal that they can be swayed by special interests.

The Senate wisely rejected the House-approved measure last year. Nothing about the gun-violence issue has changed since then to compel them to change that decision.

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