Legislature(1999 - 2000)

03/16/1999 08:05 AM House CRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 103-LIABILITY RELATING TO FIREARMS                                                                                           
Number 0047                                                                                                                     
CO-CHAIRMAN HARRIS announced the first order of business before the                                                             
committee would be HOUSE BILL NO. 103, "An Act relating to civil                                                                
actions by municipalities and certain public corporations and                                                                   
prohibiting certain civil actions by them against firearms or                                                                   
ammunition manufacturers and dealers."                                                                                          
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON, Sponsor of HB 103, informed the committee                                                                 
that HB 103 is a companion to SB 77, sponsored by Senator Pete                                                                  
Kelly.  Representative Dyson pointed out that Victor Gunn, staff to                                                             
Senator Pete Kelly, was present.                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON believed there to be two issues at hand.                                                                   
There appears to be a concerted effort from those who have an                                                                   
inherent distaste for firearms to punish the industry, thereby                                                                  
limiting the accessibility of firearms through liability suits.                                                                 
Such liability suits attempt to financially punish the                                                                          
manufacturers and distributors of firearms for the misuse of                                                                    
firearms.  This bill, HB 103, would prohibit Alaskan political                                                                  
subdivisions from prosecuting suits for the misuse of legally                                                                   
manufactured and distributed firearms.  The bill does not prohibit                                                              
manufacturers from being sued for manufacturing defects and such of                                                             
the weapons themselves.                                                                                                         
Number 0272                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON identified the other issue at hand as                                                                      
liability itself.  The misuse of any manufactured implement is the                                                              
responsibility of the person misusing the implement not the                                                                     
manufacturer.  He discussed the time his wife was on a jury in                                                                  
which the manufacturer/distributor of a snow machine was being sued                                                             
by an individual hurt when a belt broke.  The snow machine owner                                                                
testified in court that he had not maintained the snow machine for                                                              
four years, had taken the belt guard and cowling off, and was                                                                   
racing the snow machine.  Initially, Representative Dyson's wife                                                                
was the only juror who did not want to rule in favor of the injured                                                             
individual.  Three or so days later, the jury did not award the                                                                 
injured individual anything because this was not the manufacturer's                                                             
fault but rather the individual's misuse of the product.                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON believed that everyone should be held                                                                      
accountable for their actions.  Manufacturers should be held                                                                    
accountable for the production of inferior or unsafe items, but                                                                 
should not be held accountable for the misuse of items.                                                                         
Representative Dyson noted that firearms, as far as he knew, were                                                               
the only manufactured item that enjoys some constitutional                                                                      
protection.  Therefore, more care should be taken in the treatment                                                              
of firearms.  He informed the committee that SB 77 had been amended                                                             
and those amendments should be before the committee.  The Senate                                                                
amendments expand the bill to include the State of Alaska as a                                                                  
party that could not bring forth such suits.                                                                                    
Number 0542                                                                                                                     
VICTOR GUNN, Legislative Administrative Assistant for Senator Pete                                                              
Kelly, Alaska State Legislature, supported HB 103.  As                                                                          
Representative Dyson said, cities are taking firearm manufacturers                                                              
to court to hold them responsible for the violence in the city.                                                                 
Mr. Gunn stated that cities claim that firearm manufacturers have                                                               
conspired to flood the market knowing the guns will reach those                                                                 
cities with strict gun laws via the black market.  Furthermore, the                                                             
manufacturers are allegedly manufacturing more powerful firearms in                                                             
order to increase sales.  Both HB 103 and                                                                                       
SB 77 are in response to lawsuits brought forth by municipalities                                                               
against gun manufacturers in order that the municipality can recoup                                                             
its damages from the illegal use of products.  Mr. Gunn said, "They                                                             
were emboldened by recent tobacco settlements where municipalities                                                              
are now thinking they can attempt to supplement their general funds                                                             
by lawsuits directed at the deep pocket of gun manufacturers.  A                                                                
product that they consider politically uncorrect."  Unlike tobacco                                                              
companies, firearm manufacturers do not deny that they manufacture                                                              
a deadly product.  Mr. Gunn indicated that people illegally using                                                               
firearms are not being held responsible.                                                                                        
MR. GUNN said that a group of lawyers, successful in the tobacco                                                                
suits, have persuaded the mayors of several large cities to go                                                                  
after the firearm industry.  The aim is to bankrupt the firearm                                                                 
companies by suing for medical costs and monetary damages of                                                                    
gun-related crime.  Such lawsuits circumvent the constitutional                                                                 
limits as well as democratic debate.  Mr. Gunn stated, "The gun                                                                 
control movement thinks it can win without passing laws or winning                                                              
elections.  By using litigation to raise prices and drive                                                                       
manufacturers out of business, the gun controllers can reduce the                                                               
access to firearms without confronting the Second Amendment."  He                                                               
indicated the clear intent is to utilize the courts to accomplish                                                               
what the anti-gun lobbyists have not been able to accomplish in the                                                             
federal and state legislatures.  "This clear abuse of tort                                                                      
liability system seeks to use potentially bankrupting lawsuits to                                                               
force makers of a legal, but politically incorrect product, to quit                                                             
Number 0812                                                                                                                     
MR. GUNN clarified that the intent of the legislation is not to                                                                 
prevent bringing an action for product liability for a defective                                                                
product.  Firearm manufacturing is a legal enterprise that produces                                                             
quality products that are lawfully and safely used by thousands of                                                              
Alaskans for various activities.  Mr. Gunn said that Bill Reuger,                                                               
Jr. had commented that it is easier to blame the firearm                                                                        
manufacturer than have people take responsibility for their                                                                     
actions.  The Reuger company motto has been, "Arms maker for                                                                    
responsible citizens."  Mr. Gunn informed the committee that the                                                                
American Firearms Council conducted a nationwide survey of                                                                      
registered voters which found that 92 percent of registered voters                                                              
polled did not believe cities or states should sue firearm                                                                      
manufacturers as a means to stop violence.  The survey also found                                                               
that 67 percent of the voters polled believe that enforcing current                                                             
laws against the use of a firearm is more effective in addressing                                                               
criminal violence than limiting the number of firearms an                                                                       
individual can purchase.  He noted that the Public Opinion Strategy                                                             
of Alexandria, Virginia conducted the survey in October 1998 which                                                              
polled 800 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of                                                               
plus or minus three percent.                                                                                                    
MR. GUNN mentioned that blaming gun manufacturers for                                                                           
firearm-related crime is somewhat of a novel theory.  This would be                                                             
similar to attaching blame to an automobile manufacturer when an                                                                
individual drives an automobile while intoxicated and kills                                                                     
someone.  He asked, "What's next?"  One professor's report                                                                      
documented that firearms were used safely over 2 million times to                                                               
defend lives nationwide.  Further, one-tenth of one percent of                                                                  
firearms are used in any given year to commit armed crime.  The                                                                 
criminal use of firearms should be addressed by state and federal                                                               
legislatures, not the manufacturers of a legal product.                                                                         
Number 1059                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI referred to the CSSB 77(JUD) when she                                                                  
inquired as to, "...why they have removed it from the section                                                                   
relating to municipalities, public corporations to its own                                                                      
MR. GUNN explained that the Senate committee felt it important to                                                               
include individuals and the state in SB 77, which the CS                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI agreed with Mr. Gunn's earlier statements.                                                             
She commented that with regard to Mr. Gunn's question about what                                                                
would be next, Representative Murkowski hoped that the legislature                                                              
will not have to address this by statute; hopefully this will not                                                               
be the first of many statutes in an effort to end what some feel                                                                
are frivolous lawsuits.                                                                                                         
MR. GUNN commented that from the information he has garnered there                                                              
is no "smoking gun" in this legislation.  Unlike the tobacco                                                                    
industry, which was viewed as deceiving the public there was a                                                                  
"smoking gun."  No one has proven that the firearm industry has                                                                 
flooded the market with firearms knowing the firearms will move                                                                 
into cities with stricter firearm control laws.  Mr. Gunn explained                                                             
that the firearm industry sells firearms to legal dealers who in                                                                
turn sell firearms to individuals.  What an individual does with                                                                
the firearm after purchasing it is unknown.  He reiterated his                                                                  
statements regarding the claims cities have made against the                                                                    
firearm industry.  Any firearm is a potentially fatal item in the                                                               
hands of an irresponsible individual.  Mr. Gunn emphasized that                                                                 
everyone should remember that millions of individuals have survived                                                             
and prevented attacks and assaults on their person due to the                                                                   
presence of a firearm.  The firearm industry should be protected.                                                               
CO-CHAIRMAN HARRIS referred to Section 2(b) which would cover                                                                   
liability issues regarding the manufacture of unsafe or damaged                                                                 
MR. GUNN informed the committee of his law enforcement background.                                                              
He reiterated that the legislation does not intend to prevent                                                                   
damages being sought for the manufacture of products not up to par.                                                             
Number 1422                                                                                                                     
DAVID KELLEYHOUSE, Alaska Outdoor Council (AOC), informed the                                                                   
committee that AOC is the state affiliate of the National Rifle                                                                 
Association (NRA).  Mr. Kelleyhouse supported HB 103.  He                                                                       
reiterated Mr. Gunn's comments regarding the correlation between                                                                
the tobacco industry lawsuits and the flurry of lawsuits brought                                                                
against the firearms industry.  He indicated that any industry with                                                             
deep pockets that is considered "politically incorrect" at the                                                                  
moment would be in jeopardy.                                                                                                    
MR. KELLEYHOUSE said that AOC feels the current litigation to be a                                                              
direct threat to Second Amendment rights.  If substantial                                                                       
judgements are levied against firearm manufacturers, the                                                                        
manufacturer will become bankrupt or the price of weapons will                                                                  
increase by a considerable amount, placing weapons out of reach to                                                              
the average American citizen.                                                                                                   
MR. KELLEYHOUSE informed the committee that he served as the                                                                    
Director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation under the                                                                     
previous administration.  He noted that Alaska receives $7 to $10                                                               
million a year in federal matching funds for wildlife conservation                                                              
as a result of the Federal Aid and Wildlife Restoration Act of                                                                  
1937, the Pitman-Robertson Funds.  Those funds come from the 11                                                                 
percent excise tax on firearm manufacturers which is distributed to                                                             
all state wildlife agencies.  This funding has been the backbone of                                                             
conservation funding throughout the U.S. since 1937.  Mr.                                                                       
Kelleyhouse pointed out that if firearm manufacturers go bankrupt                                                               
or if there is an extreme increase in the price of firearms, the                                                                
funding for state conservation and wildlife programs would be                                                                   
strangled.  Mr. Kelleyhouse stated, "No manufacturer should be held                                                             
responsible for the irresponsible or illegal use of its products.                                                               
There's scarcely a product in society today that could not be                                                                   
injurious if misused, it's a matter of taking personal                                                                          
responsibility for one's own actions.  So, litigation against the                                                               
manufacturers of goods should not be viewed as a shortcut for local                                                             
governments to swell their coffers and shift blame for social                                                                   
problems.  Used legally, in the shooting sports, firearms are among                                                             
the safest of all products.  Consider that statistically, hunting                                                               
and target shooting are more safe than football, bowling, or even                                                               
badminton.  It's seven injuries per 100,000 participants."                                                                      
MR. KELLEYHOUSE noted that he was involved in law enforcement for                                                               
20 years and a game biologist.  He informed the committee that one                                                              
of the demands he has heard is for the firearm industry to make a                                                               
firearm specific to one individual owner.  Mr. Kelleyhouse pointed                                                              
out that in two instances that he had to use a firearm to save the                                                              
life of another, he had to use another person's firearm.                                                                        
Therefore, to make firearms useful to only one individual does not                                                              
make sense.  Mr. Kelleyhouse said that the AOC and the NRA urge the                                                             
committee to adopt HB 103.                                                                                                      
Number 1738                                                                                                                     
MIKE COONS, Paramedic, NRA member, testified via teleconference                                                                 
from Palmer.  He asked if the SB 77 amendment, prohibiting the                                                                  
state or state agents to bring such a suit, will be included in                                                                 
HB 103.                                                                                                                         
CO-CHAIRMAN HARRIS said not at this time.                                                                                       
MR. COONS noted that he had sent Co-Chairman Halcro and Harris                                                                  
e-mails regarding this issue.  Mr. Coons stated that HB 103 seems                                                               
to only address cities and boroughs.  The language does not                                                                     
prohibit  states or agents of the state from filing frivolous                                                                   
lawsuits against firearm manufacturers.  He did not have a problem                                                              
with true product liability suits or breech of contract.  Mr. Coons                                                             
felt that using only the Georgia law as a blueprint would be                                                                    
ignoring the corrections other states have made in similar                                                                      
legislation.  Texas and Florida are stopping such suits from the                                                                
Governor's mansion on down.  As long as it is possible to have an                                                               
anti-gun governor and an appointed state attorney general, the                                                                  
prohibitive language for states and state agents must be included.                                                              
Mr. Coons cited fairness as another issue.  He said, "The political                                                             
subdivisions have every right to yell 'foul' that...they are being                                                              
told what not to do, but the state isn't willing to put the same                                                                
restrictions on itself."  Mr. Coons urged the committee to amend HB
103 to include language pertaining to the state as well as agents                                                               
of the state.                                                                                                                   
Number 1901                                                                                                                     
MR. COONS said that in an e-mail to the committee and                                                                           
Representative Dyson, Mr. Coons encouraged an amendment fashioned                                                               
after language in Florida's legislation.  Mr. Coons informed the                                                                
committee that Representative Dyson had expressed concern that the                                                              
amendment could prohibit HB 103 from passing out of the House of                                                                
Representatives.  Mr. Coons noted that Senator Pete Kelly indicated                                                             
that he was considering an amendment which would make violations of                                                             
this law a civil action against the violator.  Mr. Coons reiterated                                                             
his preference for language similar to that in Florida's law in                                                                 
order to make any state agent have second thoughts about                                                                        
challenging this law.  Mr. Coons said that he would agree to a                                                                  
compromise with the civil action, if the consequences for violation                                                             
of this law were punitive enough to strongly discourage such                                                                    
action.  He informed the committee that the Mayor of Atlanta,                                                                   
Georgia was going forward with a suit against a firearm                                                                         
manufacturer.  Although Georgia has a law prohibiting such, there                                                               
are no meaningful ramifications.                                                                                                
MR. COONS stated that Internet polls by CNN and ABC respectively                                                                
report that respondents against such suits range between 75 to 90                                                               
percent.  He noted that the last time he checked, the CNN poll had                                                              
received almost 100,000 respondents and the ABC poll had received                                                               
about 50,000 respondents.  Mr. Coons emphasized that all industries                                                             
are open to such suits.  He informed the committee of a report                                                                  
aired on the Rush Limbaugh show about a report which concluded                                                                  
smoking during pregnancy results in the baby becoming a criminal                                                                
which he felt illustrated the craziness of such litigation.  In                                                                 
closing, Mr. Coons encouraged the passage of HB 103 and SB 77.                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON thanked Mr. Coons for his interest as well as                                                              
the information he has supplied on this issue.  Representative                                                                  
Dyson announced his intention to continue to work with Senator Pete                                                             
Kelly and have these two bills become similar, if not exactly the                                                               
same.  Representative Dyson indicated that amendments will be made                                                              
in both bodies as the bills move through the committee process.                                                                 
MR. COONS appreciated all the work on this issue.  He mentioned                                                                 
that Senator Pete Kelly was on NRA Live last week.                                                                              
Number 2085                                                                                                                     
CO-CHAIRMAN HALCRO asked if Representative Dyson would approve of                                                               
adopting CSSB 77(JUD), Version LS0463\I, Ford, 3/15/99, and                                                                     
reporting that out of committee as the CS from the House Community                                                              
& Regional Affairs committee.  Co-Chairman Halcro believed that the                                                             
Senate Judiciary CS does a better job of covering everyone,                                                                     
including state agencies and municipalities.  Co-Chairman Halcro                                                                
pointed out that the CSSB 77(JUD) includes everything in HB 103,                                                                
but the language is a bit broader.                                                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON said he would be pleased with the                                                                          
The committee took an at-ease from 8:36 a.m. to 8:37 a.m.                                                                       
Number 2212                                                                                                                     
CO-CHAIRMAN HALCRO moved that the wording from the CSSB 77(JUD) be                                                              
considered as the content of the amended HB 103.  There being no                                                                
objection, it was so ordered.                                                                                                   
CO-CHAIRMAN HALCRO moved to report CSHB 103, Version LS0463\I,                                                                  
Ford, 3/15/99, out of committee with individual recommendations and                                                             
the accompanying zero fiscal note.   There being no objection, it                                                               
was so ordered.                                                                                                                 
The committee took an at-ease from 8:40 a.m. to 8:42 a.m.                                                                       

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