Washington After years spent fending off lawsuits, gun manufacturers appear close to getting Congress to exempt them from suits blaming them for gun crimes and seeking millions of dollars in damages.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, has 44 Republican co-sponsors for his bill to immunize gun manufacturers and distributors from lawsuits arising out of the use of guns in crimes.
And despite a threatened filibuster by some Democrats, the bill also has the support of 10 Democrats, among them Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
"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," Daschle said two weeks ago. He began promoting the legislation after gun supporters agreed to specify that firearms manufacturers and distributors would not be protected from lawsuits involving defective products or illegal sales.
Since 1998, at least 33 municipalities, counties and states have sued gunmakers, many claiming that manufacturers, through irresponsible marketing, allowed weapons to reach criminals. None of the suits has yet to result in a manufacturer or distributor paying any damages.
Private groups also have sued, including the NAACP, which said guns "led to disproportionate numbers of injuries, deaths and other damages" among minorities. That case was thrown out of federal court in July.
Thirty-three states have laws on the books exempting gun manufacturers and distributors from such suits. The House in April passed the bill to extend the prohibition on such suits nationwide and President Bush has said he would sign it.