WASHINGTON — The Senate Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to kill a bill that would have protected gun manufacturers from lawsuits, with supporters turning against the measure after senators added a provision extending the 1994 ban on assault rifles.
The bill died on a 90-8 vote after its principal sponsor, Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig, and the National Rifle Association urged a thumbs-down on the amended measure. Craig, an NRA board member, said his bill was “so dramatically wounded it should not pass.”
“I would not send to this president or any president a bad bill of the kind that was crafted here in the Senate through the amendment process over the last several days,” he said. But he added that the issue “will not go away.”
Craig’s bill would have shielded manufacturers from potentially ruinous lawsuits except in cases of defective products or illegal sales. More than 25 cities have filed lawsuits accusing gun manufacturers of negligently marketing their products in ways that make them readily available to criminals and of failing to include safety features.
Attorneys for gun manufacturers have said they sell firearms only through licensed distributors and fully comply with federal laws. They argue that holding manufacturers responsible for what a criminal does with a gun is unfair.
In a series of votes Wednesday, senators added an amendment to Craig’s bill that would have closed the loophole that allows the purchase of guns at gun shows without a background check; an amendment to let off-duty and retired police officers carry concealed weapons across state lines; and another to extend the assault weapons ban, which is set to expire in September.
The NRA urged senators to vote against the bill after the amendments were added, calling them “poison pill” measures.
“While we will continue to work to save the U.S. firearms industry, we have said from the start that we would not allow this bill to become a vehicle for added restrictions on the law-abiding people of America,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told Senate supporters in a message Tuesday afternoon.
But New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose city is one of those with a lawsuit pending, said he was “extremely relieved” by the Senate vote.
“It would be have been outrageous to grant them immunity when firearms kill 7,000 people in this country every year,” Bloomberg said in a written statement.
Congressional Republicans had promised President Bush a “clean” bill with no amendments, despite the president’s campaign promises to support the assault weapons ban. The House of Representatives passed an unamended bill nearly a year ago.
Most senators who voted in favor of the amendments opposed the immunity provisions and voted against the final bill.
The gun show loophole and assault weapons ban were the most contentious measures. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, co-sponsored the loophole bill, arguing that it is needed to prevent known criminals and terrorists from buying guns at gun shows.
Saying several suspected terrorists have been arrested after purchasing weapons at gun shows, McCain wondered, “How many were not arrested?” His amendment passed on a 53-46 vote, while the assault weapons ban passed on a 52-47 vote.
Craig said McCain’s measure failed to “go after the criminal element.” Instead, he said, it “puts a whole new trip-wire in front of the law-abiding citizen.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California — who sponsored the assault weapons ban’s extension — said her measure “has the support of 77 percent of the American people and 66 percent of gun owners.”
“It has not removed a legal gun owner from his weapon and has reduced traces of assault weapons to crimes by two-thirds in the last 10 years,” she said.
The amendment would continue to bar the sale of 19 different types of military and military-style assault weapons. It has the support of many law enforcement agencies.
Craig opposed both amendments, urging his colleagues to “let the assault weapons ban die peacefully” and insisting that closing the gun show loophole would not help stop criminals.
The third amendment, backed by Sen. Ben Nighthorse-Campbell, R-Colorado, passed overwhelmingly, 91-8.
“It defies common sense that trained policemen cannot carry (weapons) interstate when we all knew that criminals and terrorists do,” he said.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, opposed that amendment, saying it undermined state and local law. Kennedy said after the vote that enacting the gun-show loophole and the assault weapons ban remained “an uphill battle.”
“The Senate’s adoption of these amendments today is a welcome step in the right direction, and I intend to do all I can to see that they are enacted into law this year,” he said.