Rodd C. Walton, general counsel, Sigarms, Inc.
I'd love his job.
Statement of Rodd C. Walton, General Counsel, Sigarms, Inc.
Committee on House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law
March 15, 2005
Chairman Cannon, Members of the Committee, my name is Rodd Walton. I am Secretary and General Counsel of SIGARMS, Inc. and its affiliates and subsidiaries in the United States. I am here today to ask you to support H.R. 800.
Since 1853, SIGARMS related companies, together with our predecessors, have been manufacturing small arms for military, law enforcement and commercial use. Switzerland`s Federal Ministry of Defense challenged a Swiss wagon factory to make a rifle for the Swiss Army. Accepting the challenge and after receiving the contract the wagon company changed its name to the Swiss Industrial Company - Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft known worldwide as SIG. SIG brought our firearms business to Virginia in 1985 and then moved it to New Hampshire, where we call our home today.
The foundation and thrust of SIGARMS business has been and will continue to be support military and law enforcement customers worldwide. The list of SIGARMS customers in the United States reads like a Who`s Who of law enforcement. SIG SAUER pistols are carried by the Department of Homeland Security, The U.S. Coast Guard, The Federal Air Marshalls, The U.S. Secret Service, state police agencies from Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Virginia as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers just to name a few. And SIG SAUER pistols are carried by many in combat and most notably by the U.S. Navy SEALs.
Today, approximately 65% of the output at the New Hampshire-based manufacturing facility is devoted to supplying firearms and training to military and law enforcement.
Since 1998, we at SIGARMS have been defending ourselves against a multitude of lawsuits brought by government entities, organizations and individuals seeking to blame the firearms industry, including SIGARMS, for the criminal and wrongful misuse of firearms in the United States. To blame SIGARMS for the criminal misuse of firearms that are lawfully manufactured and sold is unjust. It also is threatening to our very existence. We have been fighting for our very survival against these lawsuits, diverting time, money and other of our limited resources to defend ourselves.
As I walk through our plant, employees stop to ask me how the war is going. The war that our employees are asking about is not the Iraqi War; it is the war we are fighting against plaintiffs filing junk and frivolous lawsuits against the firearms industry, spurred on by plaintiffs` trial lawyers.
SIGARMS and many others in the industry have been fighting for ten years now, beginning with the Hamilton v. Accu-Tek case, in which the plaintiffs claimed that we manufacturers negligently distributed our firearms. While the jury in that case found some of the manufacturers liable, the verdicts were properly reversed on appeal. The same plaintiff`s lawyer decided to bring a similar case before that same trial judge. They brought the NAACP v. A.A. Arms, Inc. case based on similar theories that had already been rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals. While we are resolved not to wear down, there is a cost to this war.
Beyond these lawsuits draining our already fragile national economy and littering our already over-burdened court system, this war is hindering companies like SIGARMS from engaging in a legitimate business, making a lawful product. The existence of these lawsuits thwarts our ability to raise new capital, borrow money, establish credit, obtain insurance, attract new employees, and retain valued employees in the same manner that companies in other industries are able to do without these attacks against their industry.
These lawsuits are dangerous not only to us but also to manufacturers of lawful products in other industries. Where will it end? Should General Motors be liable for an aggressive driver who crashes into another car? If the theory of these cases is widely applied, it could result in the bankruptcies of countless companies and the displacement of innumerable amount of American workers.
I come here today to ask you to support H.R. 800. This Bill would protect legitimate businesses, such as SIGARMS, that provide hundreds of thousands of jobs for our citizens, assemblers, polishers, tool and die makers, cafeteria workers and the people who fill our snack vending machines.
If enacted into law, this Act would preempt state and local government entities and other parties from bringing aggregate liability lawsuits against the firearms industry as a way to circumvent our legislatures. It also would promote interstate and foreign commerce of small arms. A majority of the states in fact, over 30 states have passed legislation of some type that insulate the firearms industry from these types of suits. However, we need and are seeking passage of Federal law that would afford protection to the industry on a national level.
Let me emphasize that this legislation would not provide the sweeping immunity that many of its opponents suggest. This Bill would not protect gun manufacturers from liability claims. Instead, it would stop lawsuits against our industry that are based on the criminal misuse of lawfully distributed products and premised on theories such as public nuisance and market share liability.
If passed, this Bill would help to set a much needed precedent that frivolous and junk suits like these should be stopped. If passed, it would prevent the usurpation of power by the judicial branch from the legislative branch. For it is the legislature that makes laws on how we should manufacture, design, and sell firearms, not the courts. If not stopped, these lawsuits clearly will threaten other legitimate and vital industries in America.
This Bill if enacted would restore the rule of law and protect manufacturers and sellers in the firearms and ammunition industry who act legally from being harassed by frivolous and junk lawsuits. However, the Bill ensures that if a seller provides a firearm and the seller knows or should have known that the firearm would be used negligently, that seller would be liable.
We are dutifully helping to defend our country when attacked and in times of war. I ask that each of you help us in our time of war so that we can focus on making the best firearms available for our men and women in uniform and law enforcement.
In conclusion, it makes no difference that SIGARMS or other firearm manufacturers make high quality firearms that enjoy excellent records of safety. It makes no difference that we and our industry are committed to continuing our efforts, individually and together with others, to increase awareness of the issues related to the safe handling and storage of firearms and the criminal acquisition of firearms. In makes no difference that the firearms industry is one of the most patriotic and staunchly pro-law and order industries in the corporate landscape. These frivolous and junk lawsuits are being brought to exert undue pressure on our industry to settle or cave under the massive weight of litigation. Without this Federal legislation, the survival of SIGARMS, our firearms and ammunition industries, and all of the jobs, taxes, and commerce that we contribute to the U.S. economy are threatened.