The Senate’s top Democrat has broken ranks with most of his party’s constituents and has agreed to support legislation banning potentially ruinous lawsuits against the firearms industry.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

“The vast majority of gun owners, manufacturers and sellers are honest and law-abiding,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “It is wrong – and it is a misuse of the civil-justice system – to try to punish honest, law-abiding people for illegal acts committed by others without their knowledge or involvement. That’s not the way we do things in America.”

The legislation, which is backed by the National Rifle Association, the nation’s largest gun-rights group, blocks most lawsuits against the gun industry.

However, the bill would allow suits against gun manufacturers and dealers who illegally sold firearms to persons who were not qualified to own them. Also, the legislation permits suits against companies who manufacture defective weapons.

Gun-control advocates have backed a series of lawsuits filed against the industry by numerous cities and municipalities over the past few years. The suits generally claim gun makers should be held liable for criminal misuse of their products and should be made to compensate cities financially for funds spent on treating victims of armed criminal action. So far, however, cities have failed to convince the courts.

As WorldNetDaily reported, the House in April passed a version of legislation banning gun-industry suits. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, also chastised the use of the court system to punish gun makers.

“We shouldn’t use the judicial process to bankrupt an industry that makes a legal product,” he said, adding gun-control groups were using the court system to push a “back door” political agenda.

Gun-control groups have said they wanted to impose financial hardships on gun makers by taking them to court and forcing them to spend tens of thousands of dollars defending their products.

So far, one company – Navegar Inc. – has declared bankruptcy, though lawsuits brought against the company in California failed to find it negligent in a 1993 San Francisco multiple homicide.

The White House has said it supports the legislation. The administration believes it will “prevent abuse of the legal system and help curb the growing problem of frivolous lawsuits,” according to a statement.

Some Republicans, mindful that Daschle is up for re-election next year, believe his decision is based more on politics than on ideology.

“Tom Daschle is clearly having what is known as an election year conversion,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson told the Argus Leader.

The minority leader is most frequently a champion of gun-control legislation. Over the years he has supported legislation backed by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence about 80 percent of the time, the paper said.

Aides, however, denied politics was involved, telling the Argus Leader their boss – who is an avid hunter – was making a principled decision.

“[The bill] is the model of what we tried to accomplish, which is working for a bipartisan compromise that works,” Daschle spokesman Dan Pfeiffer told the paper.

Nine other Senate Democrats have signed on to co-sponsor the bill. So far, it has 55 co-sponsors, five shy of the 60 needed to become filibuster-proof by opponents.

Related stories:

House passes gun-suit immunity bill

Gun group denounces industry suits

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