Skip to comments.Gun maker takes battle to Congress
Posted on 07/28/2003 12:10:59 PM PDT by 45Auto
Richard Dyke of Windham is a tough advocate for his business and the gun-manufacturing industry. He's also a well-connected one.
And Dyke, owner of Bushmaster Firearms Inc., is using as much congressional influence as he can muster these days to fight what he says are direct threats to his industry's survival: civil lawsuits.
Bushmaster has been sued because it made the assault rifle allegedly used by the "beltway snipers" in the Washington, D.C., area last year. It wasn't the first such lawsuit against the industry. But he hopes it is the last.
Dyke, a Republican fund-raiser with ties to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and President Bush, is lobbying for a bill now in the U.S. Senate that would prevent the sniper lawsuit and others like it from ever going before a jury.
Dyke's opponents say the bill would give gun makers sweeping immunity from legal action, something not granted to any other American industry. But it's necessary, according to Dyke, because his industry is under fire.
"This is just another attempt by the anti-gun people to bring so much cost to bear on an industry that it can't go on," Dyke said. "They are trying to win in the courts what they have failed to win in the legislative process."
The bill would prohibit lawsuits against manufacturers, distributors, dealers or importers of firearms for damages that result from the use of their products by others. It's at a pivotal stage.
One version has passed the House of Representatives and another has the support of 54 members of the Senate, including Collins and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who was the last to sign on, June 18.
Although that is a majority, it's short of the 60 votes needed to fight off a filibuster that has been promised by Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer of New York, Barbara Boxer of California and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. Since neither side has the votes it needs, every senator is important.
Gun-control advocates from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence recently unleashed their own lobbying campaign with statements from survivors of people killed by the "beltway snipers." Relatives are suing Bushmaster, and Bull's Eye Shooter Supply, the Tacoma, Wash., gun shop where suspects John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo are believed to have gotten their hands on the Bushmaster assault rifle identified as the murder weapon.
"My brother was killed by the snipers, who got their assault rifle from a gun dealer who told police he 'lost' the gun," read a statement by Vickie Snyder. Snyder's brother, James L. "Sonny" Buchanan Jr., was shot in the back Oct. 3 while he was mowing his lawn. "And the Senate is considering protecting the gun dealer instead of protecting my rights."
Opponents say the bill would give the industry unprecedented protection and would unfairly stop reasonable litigation.
William Harwood, president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence and a trial lawyer, says gun makers should be held responsible if they are negligent.
"I'm not certain that this case should win," Harwood said about the Bushmaster suit. "But my point is that it should go to court."
On the other side, the National Rifle Association has made protection from such lawsuits its top priority this year, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group, pledges to spend $100 million to push the bill's passage. The organization has asked its members, including Dyke, to visit lawmakers to win their support.
Dyke is a willing spokesman. His argument is simple: The manufacturer should not be blamed for someone else's criminal acts.
Bushmaster is no more responsible for gun violence than a car maker is for drunken driving, he says. Dyke says 30 state legislatures, including Maine's, have agreed with his position by passing their own immunity laws for gun makers.
And, for Dyke, some of those senators' doors are already open.
Since he bought the company out of bankruptcy 26 years ago, Bushmaster has grown into a $50 million corporation with 220 employees in Maine and 34 machine shops spread around New England.
He recently bought a factory in Arizona, and those connections helped him gain access to members of Congress in several states, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. He says he has spoken about the bill to McCain on the phone and to other senators in person when he recently visited the Capitol.
Dyke's support of Republican candidates also provides political connections at the highest levels.
In 1999, for example, Dyke was named Maine chairman of then-candidate George W. Bush's presidential campaign. He resigned that post, however, when Bush faced questions about a Bushmaster assault rifle found in the van of a gunman who attacked children in the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center day care.
Dyke knows both Maine senators through relationships he has developed over many years. He is most closely tied to Collins, whom he has supported both in and out of office.
After Collins lost the 1994 gubernatorial race to Angus King, Dyke played a big role in finding her next job. Dyke donated $265,000 to his alma mater, Husson College, to establish a center for small business, which hired Collins.
"I told Susan, 'They are looking for an executive director, and that might be a good fit for you until you decide to run again,' " Dyke said.
The arrangement was no secret, says Collins press secretary Megan Sowards. "It is called the 'Richard E. Dyke Center for Family Business,' and she was the inaugural director," Sowards said.
A year after Collins took the Husson job, U.S. Sen. William Cohen announced his retirement. Collins won the seat in 1996.
In Collins' re-election campaign last year, Bushmaster employees including Dyke donated $11,500, including $7,500 on one day, June 7, 2002.
Dyke is a GOP loyalist and writes $1,000 checks - the maximum amount - to all Republican congressional candidates for every primary and general election, whether they are opposed or not.
Dyke may be using his political connections and his past support to make his argument, but it's impossible to say if he has influenced any votes.
Dyke says Collins and Snowe needed no direct encouragement from him to support the bill. Collins signed on as a co-sponsor to the proposed legislation when it was introduced last October, and Snowe had already committed to it before he talked to her, he says.
Collins' spokeswoman says Dyke's support for her candidacy has nothing to do with her position.
"Her support is based on her philosophical belief that manufacturers of a legal product should not be held responsible for the illegal use of their products by criminals," Elissa Canlas said.
Snowe considers the issue a matter of fairness, says her spokeswoman, Elizabeth Wenk.
"Obviously, the gun manufacturers have a responsibility to sell to licensed dealers," Wenk said. "But holding them responsible for the actions of third parties would be unfair."
When the House version of the gun maker liability bill came up for a vote in April, U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud also supported it. Michaud is a solid supporter of gun owners' rights. And he's the only Democrat in at least the last five years to get a campaign contribution from Dyke.
Dyke sent Michaud $250 in his primary campaign and $1,000 in the general election, although not until a month after he won. Before Election Day, Dyke supported Michaud's opponent, Republican Kevin Raye.
Democratic Rep. Tom Allen is the only member of the Maine delegation to vote against the immunity bill.
"In this country, people are generally liable for their own negligence," Allen said. "I just don't think it's wise for Congress to tamper with the civil justice system."
While Congress mulls its next move, a Washington state court judge has ruled that the suit against Bushmaster and Bull's Eye Shooters Supply should be allowed to go forward.
And Dyke is sure to be defending his industry.
"One version has passed the House of Representatives and another has the support of 54 members of the Senate, including Collins and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who was the last to sign on, June 18."
"Although that is a majority, it's short of the 60 votes needed to fight off a filibuster that has been promised by Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer of New York, Barbara Boxer of California and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts."
Now that is funny ping!!
(Good article too!!)
The fact that this notion even requires legislation to enforce is sad. The fact that we have politicians who actively oppose it is even sadder.
The understatement of the decade.
Now I'm saving for TWO more guns: Another SA Ruger in .357 (Birdshead grips) because my daughter is finally claiming her "graduation from college" present, her Ruger SP101 complete with custom made holster and a FL CCW permit. I just haveta have a .357 in my collection. The other is a ParaOrdnance LDA probably a C6 or C7...something to carry with lots of punch and not much size/weight.
Hey, Schmuckie, you're havin' too much fun here.
Share it--it's the Second Amendment, Putz.
Natural prey of the Kalashnicougar.
We have some strange critters on FR!!!