Protecting gun makers from lawsuits; Assembly passes bill

Wisconsin State Capitol

The Wisconsin Assembly passed a Republican-authored bill Wednesday that would limit gun and ammunition manufacturers’ legal liability, a move that could protect them from big payouts following a mass shooting.

Under the bill, no one could sue gun or ammunition manufacturers for damages relating to the lawful design, marketing or illegal use of their products. People could still sue for breach of contract or death and damages resulting from a defect in a product’s design.

"Lawsuits are one way to restrict our Second Amendment rights," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Gae Magnafici, prior to debate. "When a crime is committed we should blame the criminal and not the gun."

The vote Wednesday comes eight days after the families of nine victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting won a $73 million settlement against Remington, which made the rifle that Adam Lanza used to kill 20 first-graders and six educators at the school in 2012. The families argued that Remington never should have sold such a dangerous weapon to the public.

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Gun rights groups have said the settlement will have little effect on rifle sales and gun-makers, who are shielded from liability under federal law.

The bill now heads back to the Senate, which approved a nearly identical version in November. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has pushed for gun control measures, is expected to veto it.

The Legislature should be focused on measures the public wants, such as universal background checks, rather than something that protects gun manufacturers, said Democratic Rep. Deb Andraca, of Whitefish Bay.

"It’s time we stop protecting the gun industry and start protecting the people we are here to serve," Andraca said.

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The bill’s supporters include Wisconsin Gun Owners Inc. and the Firearm Industry Trade Association. They contend that the bill protects gun rights and the industry from politically motivated and frivolous lawsuits.

Opponents include the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort Educational Fund, which argues that legislators who back the bill are pandering to the gun industry.

The Assembly passed it on a 61-35 vote, with all Republicans and Democratic Rep. Nick Milroy, of South Range, in support and all other Democrats against.

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