The gun lobby in the United States scored a powerful if not unexpected victory yesterday when Congress passed a Bill that bans firearms victims from suing the makers of the weapons.
The Bill, which got the green light from the Senate in July, was approved by 283 to 144 in the House of Representatives, and will now go to the White House. Officials confirmed that it will be signed into law by President George Bush shortly.
The passage of the Bill offers some respite for President Bush as he struggles with low approval ratings, the fall-out from Hurricane Katrina and the recent filing of criminal charges against Tom DeLay, forcing him to stand down as majority leader in the House.
The vote showed how the political tides have turned in favour of the right-to-own-firearms camp. Celebrations were under way at the National Rifle Association, which had pushed hard for the law. For gun-control advocates, however, the day was a stinging setback.
"Lawsuits seeking to hold the firearms industry responsible for the criminal and unlawful use of its products are brazen attempts to accomplish through litigation what has not been achieved by legislation and the democratic process," said the House Judiciary Committee chairman, James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin.
Twenty lawsuits against gun manufacturers are pending around the country, all filed by local governments. When the Bill becomes law, they will be dismissed by the courts. Also protected by the new law are gun dealers.
Helping to ensure the Bill's survival was the larger majority of Republicans sitting in Congress since last year's elections, as well as growing public support for it, fuelled in part by events in New Orleans after Katrina, when the city was perceived as falling into lawlessness without protection by the police.
"Americans saw a complete collapse of the government's ability to protect them," said Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice-president. "That burnt in, those pictures of people standing there defending their lives and defending their property and their family where the one source of comfort was a firearm."
The firearms lobby, led by the NRA, is a huge contributor of funds to candidates at election time, and a large number of Democrats also supported the Bill.
A gun dealer who sold a rifle used by the so-called Washington DC snipers recently agreed to pay the families of the victims $2.5m (£1.4m) to settle a lawsuit.
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.