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State Senator Proposes Liability For Assault Weapons

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(credit: CBS)

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DENVER (AP) – Sellers and owners of assault weapons could be liable for damages caused by shootings in Colorado, another response from Democrats to recent mass shootings that has made gun-control one of the biggest issues of this year’s legislative session.

Democratic Senate President John Morse unveiled details of his proposal on Tuesday, calling it “a common-sense approach” that urges gun owners, sellers and manufacturers to take responsibility.

“You may want to own one of these guns, but the rest of us don’t want to see it on the street in a nefarious way, so you are completely responsible for making sure that doesn’t happen,” the Colorado Springs lawmaker said. He plans to introduce the bill Wednesday.

Republicans have likened Morse’s proposal to holding car manufacturers for bad drivers. Opponents were quick to deride Morse’s bill.

“My first response was that I laughed out loud,” said Sen. Greg Brophy, a Republican from Wray.

Brophy said Morse’s proposal opens the door to lawsuits and creates legal loopholes for attorneys.

“On the one hand, you laugh, and on the other hand, you shake your head and say, ‘You’re just making things worse,’” Brophy said.

A 2005 federal law that protects gun makers and sellers from liability for crimes committed with their products. But Morse said he crafted the legislation to avoid legal challenges by setting different standards of liability for shooters, gun makers and sellers.

Liability would be stricter for a shooter because attorneys would not have to prove negligence, according to summary of the language that will be included in the bill. Individuals would also be held liable if they were negligent and an assault weapon they owned was used in a crime.

Sellers and manufacturers would be liable if they failed to use “the highest degree of care” during the sale or transfer of assault weapons to prevent them from being used by criminals.

It’s unclear how it would be proven that a gun manufacturer or seller failed to meet that standard and it would be up to jurors to decide individual cases. Morse provided an example of what would be a failure to provide proper discretion, saying, “So when someone walks into a gun show, wearing an ‘I love Osama Bin Laden T-shirt’ and orders 15 AR-15s, you have not in my view met the standard.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper has not said whether he would support Morse’s bill.

The proposal is part of a package of Democratic-sponsored bills that seek to address the mass shootings at an Aurora theater and a Connecticut elementary school. Some of those proposals, including limits on the size of ammunition magazines and universal background checks, have cleared the House and will get their first vote in the Senate next week.

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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