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Gun control advocates object as Ehrlich backs bill on lawsuits


Gun control advocates criticized Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. anew yesterday for his support of a bill that would give sweeping legal immunity to the gun industry.

The bill, backed by the National Rifle Association, would bar certain kinds of lawsuits against gun dealers, manufacturers and trade associations. Ehrlich, a Republican running for governor, voted in favor of the measure yesterday as it passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The bill would not affect lawsuits claiming breach of contract or negligence on the part of the gun industry. But it would prohibit the kinds of lawsuits that have been filed by two dozen cities and counties across the country. Those cases are based on two arguments: that the gun industry has established a distribution system that funnels guns easily into the criminal market, and that gun manufacturers refuse to install safety devices that would prevent unauthorized users from pulling the trigger.

Ehrlich said he supported the bill because it would prevent nonsense lawsuits from clogging courts. "This says you're not going to be subject to being sued if your product's misused," he said.

Ehrlich added that the kinds of claims the bill addresses have all failed in court anyway.

But Dennis Henigan, legal director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the lawsuits in question are far from frivolous. Of the 24 that have been filed, seven have been dismissed and the rest are active, he said.

"This bill is being pushed by the gun lobby not because these lawsuits are failing. It's because they're succeeding," he said.

This month, Ehrlich became the subject of intense criticism from state and national gun control groups after he told reporters he would revisit a couple of the state's gun laws.

Anti-gun groups are backing the candidacy of Ehrlich's Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

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