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Democrats Boost Bill to Overturn Gun Liability Ban

Rep. Adam Schiff is co-sponsoring a bill to roll back protections for firearm dealers and manufacturers. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A renewed congressional bid to overturn the law shielding firearm dealers and manufacturers from liability is giving Democratic hopeful Bernard Sanders a chance to reverse himself on a politically troublesome vote.  

Democratic backers and gun safety advocated assembled Wednesday on Capitol Hill to push for legislation that would roll back the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which restricts lawsuits in gun cases. Sanders, who has been bashed on the campaign trail for backing the original measure, says he will support the new legislation, as long as it limits the impact on small gun shops and hunters.  

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat who has spent years pushing to overturn the gun immunity shield, said the timing of the legislation had nothing to do with presidential politics.  

"I introduced this legislation last session, and I'm not prescient enough to know what the course of the presidential race would look like this session," Schiff said. "So, the motivation behind the legislation is very much to repeal this immunity shield that the gun industry enjoys."  

"Look, without personalizing it to the presidential candidates, I think it was a tragedy that this bill was passed, PLCAA, in the first place," Schiff added. "We are trying to end the harm by this, but the harm has already been done in a sense that for the last decade gun manufacturers and dealers have had little incentive to act with a reasonable standard of care."  

Sanders has faced a barrage of criticism from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and gun safety advocates for his support of the 2005 legislation restricting lawsuits against manufacturers and dealers. He said in a Jan. 16 news release that he would propose an amendment to the bill that would require the Commerce Department to monitor and report on the law’s impact in rural areas on the availability of hunting supplies, including firearms, sold by local gun stores complying with the law.  

Schiff -- holding a news conference Wednesday to unveil the legislation alongside long with fellow Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Connecticut Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Christopher S. Murphy, and advocates from the Brady Campaign and the Center for American Process -- said he could be open to additional reporting requirements on the effects on rural gun sellers. But he added he is not open to to anything that could stop the bill from being implemented, should it become law.  

He also acknowledged the reality that any action with respect to gun policy is a long shot in a GOP-controlled Congress, but both he and Blumenthal suggested the tide could be changing.  

"Putting aside the presidential politics, I think that there is a sense that the vice-like throttle held by the gun lobby is breaking, and that the American public is awakening to the public health crisis that this epidemic of gun violence poses," Blumenthal said. He drew on his own experiences with liability lawsuits while Connecticut's attorney general and made a connection between firearms and cigarettes.  

Contact Lesniewski at niels@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.

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Topics: senate poli