David Randolph Smith

Senator Frist's Shameful and Dangerous Support of Assault Weapons & The Culture of Guns

Bill Frist & Executive Director of the NRA's Lobbying Arm (NRA-ILA)

    • 10/18/05: Senator Bill Frist was instrumental in the Senate's passage last July of a bill that grants sweeping civil liability immunity to gun manufacturers from civil liability. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (TN) used several parliamentary procedures to ensure that the controversial yet sensible amendments were not even considered and the bill was subsequently passed. Now the House of Representatives will consider the measure (H.R. 800). Tom Delay can be counted on to push for passage given the standing ovation he received at the NRA Annual Convention (where President Bush chimed in on gun maker immunity). Having successfully sued a New York gun manufacturer in U.S. District Court in Nashville in a products liability case on behalf of the parents of a teenage boy who died in Clarksville, Tennessee (Kaiser v. Auto-Ordnance), I find the toadyism of Frist & DeLay towards the NRA completely craven.
    • Today a New York Times editorial, "The Gun Industry Rolls Congress" urged the House of Representatives to not pass the House version of this NRA-backed immunity law:
      • Three years ago, the nation's capital region lived in fear of a pair of snipers who killed 10 people and wounded three in random attacks with a Bushmaster XM-15 .223-caliber telescopic rifle - a gleaming civilian version of the Army's basic M-16 assault rifle popular with recreational shooters. In the aftermath, the rifle was traced to a shoddy gun dealer who claimed he somehow "lost" that war weapon and some 200 other guns to the underground market. Victimized families sued in grief and outrage and won $2.5 million in a settlement that most Americans - except Congress - would pronounce proper. The House of Representatives, in callow disregard of cause and effect in the nation's harrowing gun carnage, is about to take aim at the Bushmaster settlement by voting what is expected to be final approval of a bill to grant assault-proof protection from damage suits to the gun industry, from manufacturers to dealers. This extraordinary shield, written to the diktat of the National Rifle Association, is so sweeping that it would have barred the D.C. sniper settlement and other valid negligence claims, according to legal experts stunned that any industry could ever win such blanket immunity.
  • "Gun Opponents Speak Out Against Tort Reform Bill" (Kansas City Star, April 7, 2005).
  • "Shoot Down Gun Immunity," The Tennessean (editorial, April 10, 2005).
  • "State Legislators Weigh in on Gun Debate" (AP, April 9, 2005).
  • In spite of the recent violence in our churches, schools and courthouses, the Senate hopes to revive a proposal to shield gun manufacturers and dealers. "Congress Fetches for the Gun Lobby" (New York Times, 4/9/05).
  • Republicans and the NRA want to remove deterrents against reckless gun dealers and manufacturers by insulating them from civil liabilty. S. 397 (and its House companion bill HR 800) "prohibit civil liability actions from being brought or continued against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition for damages, injunctive or other relief resulting from the misuse of their products by others. The measures are being bitterly oppsed by the Bradycampaign.org. Senators Bill Frist & Lamar Alexander are among the co-sponsors of this "craven" legislation.

This latest effort to immunize gun dealers and manufacturers from liability in certain scenarios comes on the heels of the Republican-controlled Congress letting the ban on assault weapons expire."I think the will of the American people is consistent with letting it expire, so it will expire," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn, told reporters on Capitol Hill in September 2004 when he attempted to explain why he was letting the ban on assault weapons expire. WHAT? Does Dr. Bill Frist actually believe that most Americans want to have AK-47s, Uzis, Tec-9s and other assault weapons freely available for gangs, terrorists and drug dealers? Even though Al-Qaeda training manuals urge terrorists to buy these weapons (especially the AK-47) in the United States, Senator Frist blithely (or blindly) permits presidential politics to bring these weapons back to U.S. streets. Senator Frist is reckless, shameful and dangerous on this issue and reasonable gun controls. For example, he voted against background checks for gun sales at gun shows. Senator Frist's "position" is very hard to reconcile with the historical facts in the Columbine tragedy and his position as a medical doctor (a fact he proudly touts is his title and on his Senate door nameplate: "William H. Frist, M.D.").

Columbine. On April 20, 1999, Columbine High School students Dylan Klebold and Erik Harris shot and killed 12 classmates and a teacher, wounding several others. In addition to a rifle and two shotguns, Klebold and Harris used a TEC-DC9 assault pistol to carry out their rampage. The shooters were both under the age of 18 at the time of the shooting and therefore not legally able to buy the weapons themselves. However, their friend Robyn Anderson, who was over 18, purchased the shotguns and rifle for them at a gun show. Mark Manes, 22, sold them the assault pistol and later pled guilty to supplying a handgun to a minor.

The Ethical Blindness of a Doctor Favoring Access to Assault Weapons. How can a medical doctor, a surgeon no less, possibly support the sale of assault weapons? The American Medical Association strongly supports the ban on assault weapons and adopted a formal resolution advocating that the ban remain in place. Senator Frist should remember the oath he took as a physician to "do no harm." As the AMA Resolution notes:

  • Whereas, Our AMA supports appropriate legislation that would restrict the sale and private ownership of large-clip, high-rate-of-fire, automatic and semi-automatic firearms, or any weapon that is modified or redesigned to operate as a large-clip, high-rate-of-fire, automatic or semi-automatic weapon (Policy H-145.993); and
  • Whereas, Semi-automatic assault weapons are civilian versions of military weapons with features that allow users to rapidly kill large numbers of people; and
  • Whereas, One out of five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty from 1998 through 2001 was killed with an assault weapon; and
  • Whereas, Assault weapons have been used in many high profile mass shootings such as the one at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado and the Washington DC-area sniper shootings; and
  • Whereas, Injuries from assault weapons have a particularly distressing effect on victims because increased firepower heightens the risk of multiple gunshot wounds and severe penetrating trauma, which can intensify devastation to the body; and
  • Whereas, The severity of wounds that result from assault weapons lead to high medical costs for treatment and recovery; and
  • Whereas, California significantly improved its state assault weapons ban in 1999 in response to gun industry efforts to evade a law passed in 1989, giving the federal government a successful model to follow; and
  • Whereas, The 1994 federal Assault Weapons Ban is scheduled to sunset on September 13, 2004;
  • Therefore be it RESOLVED, That our American Medical Association advocate for the renewal of the 1994 federal Assault Weapons Ban (Directive to Take Action); and be it further RESOLVED, That our AMA advocate for a strengthening of the ban on assault weapons to better regulate civilian transfer and possession.
  • (pdf) here.