Former Montgomery County, Md., police chief Charles A. Moose and relatives of Washington area sniper victims helped a team of gun-control advocates launch a lobbying campaign yesterday on Capitol Hill to defeat a bill that would help shield the firearms industry from lawsuits. “My brother is gone, and there’s nothing I can do about that,” said Victoria Snider, whose brother, James L. “Sonny” Buchanan Jr., was slain Oct. 3 as he mowed a lawn. “But I am asking Congress, ‘Please do not take away my rights.’ ”
The legislation, which would protect the gun industry from ongoing and future lawsuits, has passed the House and is pending in the Senate, where 54 members have voiced support. The firearms industry calls the legislation a prudent way to prevent manufacturers from being sued each time a criminal uses one of their weapons. Some gunmakers and distributors, facing numerous lawsuits from victims and gun control groups, say jury verdicts and legal expenses could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars. Opponents say the measure would put gunmakers and dealers in the position of being able to operate without fear of lawsuits and eliminate a motive to make weapons safer.
Emotional appeals are likely to play a significant role in a movement by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence to defeat the bill. Michael Barnes, president of the group, said that while the firearms industry can spend millions to lobby its cause, his group’s strength is in the stories of gun victims. The campaign will include rallies and events across the country, with an emphasis on states that are home to undecided senators. Some members of Congress have said privately that they believe they need to vote yes to keep the gun industry from organizing voter revolts in their home districts.
In the sniper cases themselves, a judge moved the trial of John Allen Muhammad from the Washington, D.C., suburbs to to Virginia Beach, Va. Coupled with the change of venue ordered last month for Lee Boyd Malvo, the Washington metropolitan area’s most notorious criminal cases will be tried more than 200 miles away.