Fumbling The Gun Makers’ Protection Act

Fumbling the Gun Makers’ Protection Act
— What went wrong this week and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again

ACTION: Please see if your U.S. Senator is listed below. If so, then use the pre-written text to direct your comments to him or her. This is an election season, so let’s be sure to keep the heat on! You can use the GOA Legislative Action Center at http://www.gunowners.org/activism.htm to send the letter as an e-mail.

What happened this week in the U.S. Senate was predictable.

Senate Democrats loaded up the gun makers’ protection act with several anti-gun amendments, forcing all sides to vote the bill down. Pro-gun lawmakers didn’t want the gun restrictions to pass, while the anti-gun zealots didn’t like the underlying bill because they want the frivolous lawsuits against gun manufacturers to continue.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 90-8 against the bill, and in doing so, all the anti-gun amendments died with it.

Senators Had Been Warned

As far back as six months ago, Gun Owners of America had been warning Senate personnel that what happened this week in the U.S. Senate could easily happen, and we had laid out the necessary steps to make sure it didn’t happen.

But the Senate leadership failed to consider the determination of its opponents.

One always has to know the adversary. For when you have a determined opponent, you can never take anything for granted.

Super Bowl fans will never forget the Cowboys-Bills match-up in 1993 when this lesson was hammered home in a very embarrassing way for one Cowboy. Dallas’ Leon Lett recovered a fumble and sauntered towards the end zone. Overjoyed with the score that was about to happen, Lett began his “touchdown” celebration… but he began just a tad early. Little did he know that Buffalo’s Don Beebe was hot on his tail and was able to catch up to Lett, who was now putting on a show for the whole world, before he had ever entered the end zone.

Well, the result was somewhat predictable. Don Beebe swatted the ball out of Lett’s hands; the ball rolled out of the end zone for a touchback. It was now Buffalo’s ball, and there would be no Dallas touchdown on that play.

In politics, as in sports, you never take anything for granted — especially when you have a determined opponent. And that is why there was no “touchdown” this week in the U.S. Senate, as the Senate leadership fumbled the ball right before the goal line.

What the Senate Should Have Done

There were almost 60 senators — some of them Democrats — who cosponsored the original version of the gun makers’ protection act (S. 659). The second draft of this bill (S. 1805) was watered down to gain additional Democrat support.

The Senate leadership should have brought this bill to the floor in such a way that anti-gun amendments were not allowed. An “up or down” vote on the bill should have been immediately demanded. This could have been done very easily, and GOA began privately working to educate senators on how to achieve victory.

Dubbed the “tree and cloture” strategy, GOA laid out the procedure for insuring that “killer amendments” banning firearms, shutting down gun shows, and outlawing the use of firearms for self-defense could NOT be offered on the Senate floor.

By the way, this is not a strategy which is unfamiliar to the Senate leadership. You can go to http://www.gunowners.org/a030204a.htm (Link no longer active) on the GOA website to read in greater detail how this is done.

A Bad Decision

Unfortunately, the Senate rejected this strategy and, instead, opted for the “circus approach,” where anti-gun senators were allowed to offer amendments that had nothing to do with lawsuit reform. These amendments were discussed, debated and tacked onto the bill.

Allowing votes on these amendments was a very dangerous tactic, considering the fact that the votes on the anti-gun amendments were going to be very close. Couple that with the fact that the underlying bill had been so watered down to begin with.

Even as drafted, S. 1805 would have continued to allow suits for “design defects.” As it stands now, 27 out of 34 anti-gun suits by cities and counties against the gun industry already allege “design defects.”

In addition, the bill would continue to allow suits which argue the seller “should know” the buyer “is likely to, and does, use the product in a manner involving unreasonable risk….”

All 34 of the existing, frivolous lawsuits are based, in part, on this argument.

Thus, there is a huge question as to whether this bill would even be a positive “one step forward” if it had been passed as originally drafted. But once the anti-gun amendments were tacked on, it became clear that the bill would have taken us “ten steps backward” if it ever reached the President’s desk.

Clean up the Bill Later?

Ah, some say, but we could have taken care of those anti-gun amendments in a House-Senate conference committee. We could have cleaned up the bill before it ever got to the President.

This is always a dangerous strategy. After all, when is the best time to kill a poisonous snake?

Answer: the first chance you get. The longer you let it live, the better chance it has to bite you.

This is exactly what happened in 2002, when many senators voted for the McCain-Feingold restrictions on free speech, based on the assumption that the conference committee would clean up the bill later and the Supreme Court would overturn it.

Gun owners are now well aware that the conference committee never cleaned up the bill, and draconian restrictions on the ability of Gun Owners to inform people of their legislators’ anti-gun records went to the President’s desk.

President Bush then signed the bill, also relying on the chance that the Supreme Court would strike down unconstitutional provisions that were in it.

Well, wrong again. The Supreme Court upheld the restrictions this past December.

Remember, you always kill a poisonous snake the first chance you get. One can only assume that a conference committee will “take care of the problem” if one ignores the determination of Ted Kennedy, Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer.

Know Your Opponent

Democrats would not have allowed the gun liability bill to even go to conference without a pre-commitment that the Clinton gun ban stay in the bill. Consider that Democrats used the same strategy to obtain concessions on a pension bill.

What makes us think the Democrats would have allowed a pro-gun bill to go to conference without a commitment that the semi-auto ban — and the other gun restrictions — would remain intact?

The only other option would have been for the House to take up the Senate bill and strip off all the anti-gun amendments and then sent it back to the Senate. But under those circumstances, the bill would then come back to the Senate as a fully amendable bill, and that would mean we’re back at square one, passing a gun makers’ protection bill in the U.S. Senate while trying to keep anti-gun amendments off of it.

So What Can We Do?


First, it should be noted that you have already accomplished quite a bit. The reason that we’re not getting stuck with additional gun control right now is because thousands of postcards were landing on Senators’ desks, and because even more e-mails and phone calls were pouring in as well.

One Senate staffer told us that the GOA postcards made it quite clear that “no deals” were acceptable, and that this message doomed the anti-gun product that emerged from the process.

So you guys have done great work. But just because the battle is over, don’t think that the war has been won. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) may very well offer her semi-auto ban as an amendment to another bill before the September sunset kicks in.

Thus, it is imperative that we let Senators know — especially those Senators who voted against us — that we’re still watching.

It is very important that they hear from us. This is an election year, and we need to keep the “heat” on.

So please use the pre-written text below for those senators who voted against your gun rights.

— Pre-written text for Senators who voted for the semi-auto ban —

Dear Senator:

I am very disappointed to see that you voted for the Clinton-Feinstein semi-auto ban on March 2. I find your vote very ironic, since the President who signed this bill into law later complained how politically costly this law had become.

In his State of the Union message the following year (1995), President Clinton told the Congress that “I don’t think it’s a secret to anybody in this room that several members of the last Congress who voted for [the semi-auto ban] aren’t here tonight because they voted for it…. [A] lot of people laid down their seats in Congress.”

It’s no secret that there are many single-issue voters who will cross party lines to oppose gun control candidates. Even after the most recent presidential election, Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman lamented to USA Today in 2001 that Democrats “lost a number of [pro-gun] voters who on almost every other issue realized they’d be better off with Al Gore.”

As you know, this ban is scheduled to sunset in September. The ban was a total fraud to begin with, as the Bureau of Justice Statistics has shown that violent criminals in this country only carried so-called “military-type guns” in about one percent of crimes… and this was before the ban was enacted.

Thus, this ban has done nothing to affect criminals, but has done a lot to stir up political opposition. I hope you will remember the political lessons from these last ten years and vote to uphold the Constitutional rights of your constituents. Thank you.



The 52 Senators who voted for the Feinstein semi-auto ban on March 2, 2004:

Akaka (D-HI)
Bayh (D-IN)
Biden (D-DE)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Breaux (D-LA)
Byrd (D-WV)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Carper (D-DE)
Chafee (R-RI)
Clinton (D-NY)
Collins (R-ME)
Conrad (D-ND)
Corzine (D-NJ)
Daschle (D-SD)
Dayton (D-MN)
DeWine (R-OH)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Edwards (D-NC)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Fitzgerald (R-IL)
Graham (D-FL)
Gregg (R-NH)
Harkin (D-IA)
Hollings (D-SC)
Inouye (D-HI)
Jeffords (I-VT)
Kennedy (D-MA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Kohl (D-WI)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lieberman (D-CT)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Lugar (R-IN)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-FL)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reed (D-RI)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sarbanes (D-MD)
Schumer (D-NY)
Smith (R-OR)
Snowe (R-ME)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Warner (R-VA)
Wyden (D-OR)