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Senators Metzenbaum and DeConcini push restrictive anti-gun legislation.

Senators Metzenbaum and DeConcini Push Restrictive Anti-gun Legislation

The great national debate over federal legislation dealing with semiautomatic firearms reached another milestone on June 22 when the Bush Administration's "Comprehensive Violent Crime Control Act of 1989" was introduced and the Senate Judiciary Committee met but postponed action on the Metzenbaum and DeConcini bills, S-386 and S-747.

The official reason offered for the postponement was that committee members wanted to wait until the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) finished its study on whether or not the semiautomatics temporarily banned for import meet the sporting criteria established under current federal law.

One unofficial reason was that the anti-gunners saw that they did not have the votes to get either the Metzenbaum or DeConcini bill out of committee. In fact, Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) seemed to indicate that he would be more than happy to forget about his bill and support the President's proposal DeConcini reportedly is catching a ton of flak in Arizona for introducing S-747.

Pro-gun Republicans sponsored the Crime Control Act but made it clear they do not support its anti-gun sections.

"We are unsatisfied with the bill at this time," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA). "We want to keep those (semiautomatic weapons) out of the hands of criminals, but we don't want to restrict legitimate gunowners."

Sen. James McClure (R-ID), the leading pro-gunner in the Senate, signed on as a sponsor but vowed to "correct" the measure with later amendments.

"I believe this measure can be corrected to carry out the intent of the administration without impinging on the legitimate (gun) owner and manufacture," declared McClure.

A Republican Senate staffer told The Washington Times, "If we don't get something (a change in the gun provisions in the act), we're going to see a Republican filibuster."

One controversial section of the Crime Control Act would make it illegal to import, manufacture, transport, ship, transfer, receive or possess a magazine, clip or other "ammunition feeding device" capable of holding more than 15 rounds of ammo.

A person owning these "large" magazines before the law is passed will be allowed to keep them. However, if this person wants to transfer the magazine to another gunowner, it will have to registered as if it were a fully automatic firearm. The registration fee is set at $25--compared to $200 for automatic firearms. All newly manufactured "ammunition feeding devices" would have to carry serial numbers and any other information the Secretary of the Treasury finds necessary.

Nancy Norell, a legislative aide to Sen. McClure, told me that originally the Bush Administration wanted to prohibit any transfer of magazines of over 15 rounds. If you owned such a magazine, it would have been yours until you died. Then it would have had to be destroyed.

Of course, this proposal raises the question: How would you prove that a 30-round clip was a legal one you had owned for 10 years and not a newly-manufactured illegal one? Neither would have a serial number on it.

Another provision that alarms progunners is Section 117 which declares, "It shall be unlawful for any person to assemble any semiautomatic rifle or shotgun which is identical to any rifle or shotgun prohibited from not being particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes...."

It specifically exempts "assembly operations for any such rifle or shotgun by a licensed manufacturer that were taking place in the United States before May 15, 1989."

"We find this an extremely dangerous precedent," said Jim Baker, director of the Federal Affairs Division of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA).

Baker did praise the anti-crime provisions of the bill, such as mandatory sentencing, noting, "Except for the gun provisions, the NRA could have written this. These are all things we've been advocating for years."

However, Baker pledged, "We intend to do everything we can to see that the anti-gun provisions are stripped out of this thing."

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has introduced a bill that is the Bush Administration's crime proposal without the anti-gun provisions.

If, indeed, it is the Bush Administration's gun proposals that finally emerge from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH) is expected to try to take his bill to the floor of the full Senate. Meanwhile, pro-gun senators will be attempting to delete the the anti-gun provisions of the Bush proposal. We could have our own political greenhouse effect working this summer with some very hot debates and votes.

As I write this column, Washington is filled with rumors of a rift between drug czar William Bennett and pro-gun elements within BATF. This could mean that the BATF report on semiautomatics temporarily banned for import has been written and that we can expect the ban to be made permanent.

While we've all had our eyes focused on Washington, D.C., in Philadelphia a court has handed down a decision that, in the words of The Wall Street Journal, "could have far-reaching implications for many retail store owners."

A jury awarded $11.3 million in damages to a 20-year-old woman who was shot in the head when a handgun owned by her neighbor was accidentally discharged in 1983. The verdict directed that 30% of the total damage award be paid by the gun shop that sold the firearm "because it provided the buyer no demonstration or written instructions for its use."

The verdict is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation. If upheld on appeal in Pennsylvania Superior Court, it could have broad impact, especially if used as a precedent by other courts around the nation. In fact, all retail merchants could be affected by this decision. After all, when's the last time you bought a lawn mower and had the clerk show you how to use it safely?

Since Pennsylvania is among the states where a plaintiff can collect the entire award from one defendant in a multiple-defendant case. Donn's Gun Room in Montgomery, PA, could be responsible for the entire $11.3 million. Obviously, if this decision is upheld, guns shops around the country could face higher insurance premiums--or underwriters might simply refuse to provide insurance for gun dealers.

The Pennsylvania case involved a handgun that was sold in 1981 to Brenda Teagle. Ms. Teagle claimed that the dealer did not show her how to load and unload it, clean it or activate the gun's safety. According to her attorney, a neighbor loaded the gun for her, putting six cartridges in the magazine and one in the chamber. Ms. Teagle then put the gun away in a dresser drawer.

Two years later, her daughter's boyfriend was handling the gun while Tamica Haines, the plaintiff, was visiting the Teagle home. The firearm discharged and Miss Haines, 14 at the time, was permanently brain damaged by a wound to the head.

During the trial, Ms. Teagle testified that if she had been shown how to use the gun, she would never have loaded a cartridge in the chamber or left it in her dresser drawer with the safety off.

The attorney for the plaintiff, Stephen T. Salz, contended that firearms are deadly weapons and that gun shops have a duty to demonstrate their safe use before turning them over to customers.

However, Frederic Goldfein, an attorney representing Donn's Gun Shop and its insurer, Aetna Life & Casualty Co., insisted that it is the gun buyer's responsibility to learn how to use the firearm safely--a position strongly supported by the firearms industry and pro-gun groups.

"Our position has always been that when a person purchases a firearm, that purchaser assumes an immediate responsibility to have made himself familiar with the firearm," said John Hosford, executive director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA).

Concern over the case extends far beyond just gun dealers and owners.

Craig Berrington, general counsel for the American Insurance Association, said the case "raises questions about whether anyone selling any product has any sense of certainty about the liability standards that apply."

The case is expected to be appealed.
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Title Annotation:Howard Metzenbaum, Dennis DeConcini
Author:Schneider, Jim
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Aug 1, 1989
Previous Article:The smartest four letter-word in advertising: H-E-L-P.
Next Article:The year of the great "assault weapons" scare.

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