Recently the American Bar Association published a report urging:
[F]ederal, state … governments to enact laws requiring that all newly-manufactured semi-automatic pistols be fitted with microstamping technology which would ensure that when a firearm is fired, an alphanumeric and/or geometric code would be stamped on the cartridge casing … that would enable law enforcement to identify the serial number of the pistol and hence the first known purchaser of a weapon used in a crime.
To succeed, microstamping requires building a permanent database of all gun owners (licensing) and linking their firearms by serial number (registration), two major goals of gun control advocates.
Two law firms represent patent holders that could make the ABA recommendation reality. They’ve spent $6.7 million on campaign contributions since 2004, while the entire gun rights lobby spent $6 million.
There are fortunes to be made promoting gun control.
As a newly converted gun control researcher, the first time I saw lawyer money intersect with gun rights was in 2005, when Congress enacted the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). This tort reform banned manufacturer liability suits based upon injuries and damages resulting from criminal firearm use. Campaign finance watchdog Open Secrets notes that lawyers generally oppose tort reform.
According to Open Secrets, lawyers and law firms (aka the law lobby) contributed heavily to congressional and presidential races in 2004, more than any other industry, spending nearly $183 million on federal campaigns, with 74% going to Democrats.
During the PLCAA roll call, senators voting “Yea” received an average of $366,847 in lawyer contributions, while the 31 “Nay” voters – 29 Democrats – received $645,972, 73.4% more. Lawyer money represented the largest industry donor for most “Nay” voters, while for most “Yea” voters, it ranked between 3rd and 4th.
In the House, those who voted “Yea” on the bill, received an average of $49,464 apiece. “Nay” voters — 140 of 144 were Democrats — received an average of $74,742 apiece, 51% higher. Again, those voting against tort reform were more likely to have the law lobby as their biggest donor.
The law lobby bias existed in both the Senate and the House:
- More law lobby money, more support for continued lawsuits against gun manufacturers when a criminal shoots somebody.
- As the law lobby trended towards becoming the biggest contributor to a candidate’s campaign fund, that candidate was more likely to support gun control.*
Subsequent congressional vote analyses consistently supported these findings (e.g. the Vitter Amendment banning firearms confiscation during emergencies; the Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act of 2006 in the House.)
In the 2008 election cycle, the law lobby spent over $233 million; it has spent $81.6 million so far in 2010. In the last two election cycles, 76% of that money went to Democrats, slightly above the historical average of 73%. Lawyers are the richest lobby in America, representing the largest segment of anti-rights Democrats’ campaign funding. In 2008, re-elected Democratic incumbents averaged a D+ NRA grade, while GOP incumbents averaged an A.
Campaign funding reflects a certain quid pro quo benefiting Democrats and their donors, making them resistant to change in campaign finance law.
In 2008, voters re-elected 223 Democratic House incumbents. The charts below show that within the Democratic Party, anti-rights representatives’ voting records correlated with the law lobby comprising a greater share of total campaign contributions.
History shows why investing in congressional candidates can maintain a favorable legal environment for future high-return litigation. Lawyers received billions of dollars in contingency fees from the tobacco settlement in November 1998, in which manufacturers were held liable for the deliberate actions of consumers. In Texas alone, attorneys were awarded $2.3 billion. One report noted:
Private attorneys in Texas, Mississippi and Florida made out like bandits, fleecing tobacco companies, smokers and taxpayers for $8.2 billion in legal fees – billions more than the lawyers themselves had demanded!
After the tobacco settlement, the law lobby more than tripled the amount of total political contributions to federal candidates, from $59 million in the 1998 election cycle to $183 million in 2004. Considering that the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act banned “soft money” contributions by the 2004 elections, the $183 million is compelling.
But what happened with the settlement money, and who paid for it, provides another relevant part of the story.
The settlement supposedly funded government health programs. For example, in 2002-3, nearly $1 billion of the Texas settlement went to health and human services, including education and enforcement programs requiring more bureaucrats, buildings, and maintenance, and even debt service on capital improvement bonds for one hospital. Another $90 million went for higher education programs like nursing.
But in California, state legislators grabbed the first $562 million installment for the settlement payment, placing it in the general fund and thwarting those wanting to direct the money to public health programs. In fairness, some probably ended up in public health programs.
But the settlement money was paid to government.
The financial damages were not exactly punitive to the tobacco companies. Tobacco companies are often part of conglomerates, allowing them to raise prices on products unrelated to smoking in order to pay settlement costs. For example, Phillip Morris, one of the tobacco companies involved in the settlement, is owned by Altria Group, which owned Kraft Foods until 2007.
When expenses increase, companies raise prices. Anybody buying Kraft products between 1998 and 2007 was also paying the tobacco settlement.
When your money goes to government agencies, it’s a tax, proving the fantasy of “business” taxes and fines, and making the tobacco settlement taxation without representation. Working with predominantly Democratic lawmakers, lawyers transfer your wealth to themselves and government, while cigarette manufacturers continue business as usual.
In an indirect manner, firearms tort litigation presented a golden opportunity for bigger paydays. Gun makers don’t have deep pockets. During the PLCAA hearings, Lawrence G. Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation testified: “The firearm industry taken together would not equal a Fortune 500 company.”
Creating case law precedent, holding product manufacturers liable for the criminal use of their products, opens up major financial doors. Do gang bangers wear Nike clothing to identify themselves? Sue Nike, ranked 124th in 2010’s Fortune 500. Bank robbers prefer Mustangs for getaway cars? Sue Ford, ranked 8th.
After all, these manufacturers knew their products were ending up in criminal hands. They should have been responsible corporate citizens and reduced production so that “surplus” wouldn’t be available for criminal use. If nothing else, sue them for helping create a public nuisance by enhancing criminal activity.
Sounds silly? The “surplus” theory was behind the Brady Campaign’s legal assault on firearms manufacturers. Mayors Against Illegal Guns touts nuisance litigation as a workaround to the PLCAA.
Perhaps firearms manufacturers’ inability to afford ongoing defense against tort cases made them an easy opportunity to get that case law on the books?
Since the law lobby is so powerful, it’s reasonable to conclude they want to eliminate any threat to their goals, including your guns. They know that destroying the firearms industry won’t directly provide a tobacco-like payday, but it shifts the balance of power further away from the people.
Brady and the Violence Policy Center are the spear tip of the anti-rights movement. Educate and empower yourself, and vote.
(For valuable election research, browse Open Secrets’ Congressional Races page and click on your state. For additional assistance, 2010 NRA grades are available.)
* For more details and citations on many related issues, see Four Hundred Years of Gun Control, Chapter 4.
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