(CNSNews.com) - Representative Bob Barr (R-GA) is calling for an investigation into the federal government's possible lawsuits against gunmakers.
"The most important thing that I'm seeking," Barr told CNSNews.com, "is some answers as to why HUD's top lawyer (Gail Laster) in August testified under oath before Rep. John Mica's (R-FL) subcommittee on which I serve, that HUD had no plans to and no authority to engage in such lawsuits. And now, four months later they are doing precisely what the lawyer said under oath they were not going to do."
Barr serves on the House Government Reform Committee's subcommittee on criminal justice.
In August, Gail Laster, counsel at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), told a House panel that the department "does not plan to bring any action on its own against the gun industry."
Barr said, "If you have a witness appearing under oath before a committee and asked . . . does HUD plan to initiate or engage in such lawsuits, and the witness says no, and barely four months later, they do precisely what they said they weren't going to do, either the witness has engaged in deliberate misrepresentation or out and out lying to a duly constituted subcommittee of the Congress," said Barr.
"I think that raises very serious questions about whether or not Congress is going to maintain any role to engage in oversight or is simply going to allow administration witnesses to come forward say whatever they want and do whatever they want, with no threat of any consequences," Barr added.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was quick to defend Laster.
A senior HUD official, who did not want to be identified, told CNSNews.com what Laster said during that August hearing was "absolutely accurate."
"Miss Laster said that HUD does not plan to bring any action on its own against the gun industry. That was absolutely accurate. The action now that's being contemplated would be filed by public housing authorities around the country. HUD is supportive of that action, but HUD is not filing a lawsuit on its own," said the HUD official.
The official went on to say, "Miss Laster characterized back in August exactly what HUD's position was in August; namely, that we were looking at the issue. . . . At the time that Miss Laster spoke we were in a period early in our examination of it but we certainly hadn't made a decision, as we have at this point now."
Barr told CNSNews.com he believes such procedures typify the Clinton administration's attitude toward congressional oversight.
"[Administration witnesses] appear before Congress and glibly either answer questions or refuse to answer questions and just go about their merry way, doing what they want without apparent interest in making sure that their actions match up with their testimony," Barr said.
Barr doesn't think the government should engage in lawsuits against gun manufacturers. "The fact of the matter is that the government has no authority to engage in such lawsuits. And simply positing that they might accomplish a worthwhile goal does not give the government the right to sue the manufacturer of a lawful product and moreover," Barr told CNSNews.com.
"What we're witnessing here is the government blaming a private entity for its failure to properly police its housing projects," added Barr.
But HUD believes the probable lawsuits have a "very sound foundation."
The HUD official told CNSNews.com, "The public housing authorities are the landlords of three million poor people and they have absolute right to protect the safety of those people. HUD, in its statutory mission, is required to provide decent, safe and sanitary housing for public housing residents around the nation. In order to fulfill that mission and make people safer in their homes, we've been examining the possibility of a class action lawsuit by public housing authorities against gun manufacturers for several months."
Also, what the government is pursuing against the gunmakers, according to the senior HUD official, is "a very modest and very limited agenda," such as "distribution controls to insure that criminals and minors and others who really aren't legally allowed to have guns are getting them and we're talking about changing the advertising, so that ads aren't really targeted at publications and programs to appeal to criminals and children."