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GOP Moves To Shield Gun Makers

The Senate put off until fall completing a $491 billion defense bill in order to act this week on the National Rifle Association's top priority: shielding gun manufacturers and dealers from liability suits stemming from gun crimes.

On a 66-32 test vote Tuesday, the Senate indicated there's plenty of support for Republican leaders' determination to pass the gun bill before lawmakers leave at the end of this week for a monthlong vacation.

Democrats accused Republican leaders of pandering to special interests by shelving the defense bill to work on the NRA-backed bill.

"The only reason it is coming to the floor, in a time of war to interrupt the debate on the Defense Authorization bill is that members are feeling pressure form the gun lobby," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss reports the surprising about-face is a double win for the White House. It strongly supports the NRA-backed bill to protect gun makers and sellers from lawsuits, and at the same time didn't like the direction the defense bill was going.

Fuss says that's because, despite intense pressure, key Republicans continued supporting amendments that would have put into law some standards for how detainees in the war on terror can be held and how they should be treated.

The White House has threatened that President Bush would veto the entire defense bill if the amendments were included in it.

Congress was on the way to passing the gun bill last year when the NRA abruptly asked its chief sponsor, Sen. Larry Craig, R-, R-Idaho, to withdraw it after opponents succeeded in amending it to extend an expiring ban on assault weapons. A pickup of four GOP Senate seats in last November's election emboldened gun rights supporters to try again, confident they can block reimposing restrictions on assault-type weapons.

The bill would prohibit lawsuits against the firearms industry for damages resulting form the unlawful use of a firearm or ammunition. Craig, a member of the NRA's board of directors, said such lawsuits are "predatory and aimed at bankrupting the firearms industry." Such lawsuits unfairly blame dealers and manufacturers for the crimes of gun users, he added.

Gun makers and dealers still would be subject to product liability, negligence or breach of contract suits under the bill, Craig said.

Gun opponents say the bill effectively exempts gun makers from liability and that dealers allow the weapons to get into the hands of people the law says shouldn't have them. If the bill had been law when six victims of Washington, D.C. snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo sued the gun dealer from which they obtained their rifle, the dealer would not have agreed to pay the families and victims $2.5 million, say opponents of the bill.

The Republican-controlled House passed a similar bill in 2004 but has taken no action on the issue this year.