Morse to introduce assault weapon liability measure Wednesday

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Senate President John Morse announces Democrats' gun control proposals at the Capitol in February.

Senate President John Morse announces Democrats' gun control proposals at the Capitol in February.

DENVER — Senate President John Morse is pushing ahead with his proposal to make gun manufacturers and retailers liable for gun violence with weapons they make and sell.

Morse, D-Colorado Springs, will introduce what he calls the “Assault Weapons Responsibility Act” on Wednesday; and it will be debated along with other gun measures, including four that have already passed the House, next week.

Since introducing the idea, Morse has been working on the legislation itself, looking for a way to avoid a conflict with a federal law that currently shields gun makers and sellers from criminal liability for gun-related crimes.

His solution: lightening the liability provision so that only gun users can be held “strictly liable” for gun crimes; the liability that would be imposed on manufacturers and retailers would be lesser than “strict” liability but still enough, Morse believes, to motivate gun sellers and manufacturers to be more careful.

“These guns are so dangerous, so violent, so capable of destruction, you need to make sure that not one of them ends up on the street nefariously,” Morse told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Morse used ATF statistics from the year 2000 that traced the guns used in violent crimes back to their sellers and showed that 86 percent of the gun retailers in the country had never sold a gun used in a crime.

“Most of the gun sellers, 13 years ago, were already living up to this standard marvelously,” Morse said. “They understood there are people who come into a gun store who have no business buying a gun.

“One percent of the gun sellers,” Morse said, “have 50 percent of the traces. So, obviously, there are dozens, or were back in 2000, of gun shops throughout the country that didn’t really care. They’d sell you whatever you wanted if you could pass a background check.

“This will make sure these people care.”

Morse said the difference in the liability provision will avert a legal conflict and make it more likely for lawmakers to support his bill.

“I think this bill has a very good chance of passage,” he said.

UPDATE: Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman blasted Morse’s proposal in a statement issued Tuesday night, calling the measure a boon to trial lawyers and an assault on the Second Amendment.

“Sen. Morse is proposing a full employment act for trial lawyers in an attempt to sue firearms dealers and manufacturers out of existence,” Cadman said. “This law will also jeopardize law abiding firearms owners as they can be sued into bankruptcy if they have ever owned a firearm that later causes harm or damage under the possession of someone else.

“If this broad policy were applied to any object sold in America, there would be no one willing or able to sell cars, tools, knives, appliances, fuel and the list goes on and on.

“This bill creates new frontiers for holding innocent people liable for the acts of criminals.”

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