The House of Representatives today passed legislation to protect the U.S. gun industry from lawsuits by crime victims, and President Bush said he looks forward to signing it.

The House voted 283-144 to approve the "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act," which passed the Senate in late July by a similarly lopsided margin of 65-31.

The National Rifle Association, which pushed hard for the bill as its top legislative priority, hailed it as vital to protect the American firearms industry from "predatory and baseless lawsuits initiated nationwide by the gun control lobby."

But gun-control groups said the bill violates the rights of citizens harmed by gun violence and vowed to challenge its constitutionality.

The legislation prohibits civil lawsuits against gun manufacturers, dealers and distributors for damages resulting from the illegal use of a firearm or ammunition. However, gun makers and dealers could still be sued in civil courts over such issues as product liability, negligence and breach of contract.

Under the legislation, a half-dozen pending lawsuits against the gun industry by local governments would be dismissed, and some lawsuits filed by individuals could also be thrown out, the Associated Press reported.

In a statement, Bush commended the House for passing the bill.

"Our laws should punish criminals who use guns to commit crimes, not law-abiding manufacturers of lawful products," Bush said. "This legislation will further our efforts to stem frivolous lawsuits. . . . I look forward to signing this legislation into law."

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called today's House vote a "historic victory for the NRA." He said NRA members and supporters of the bill "have saved the American firearms industry and protected the sanctity of the Second Amendment."

In a statement, the NRA said lawsuits filed by gun-control groups "sought to bankrupt a lawful, highly regulated industry by holding the manufacturers and retailers responsible for the unforeseeable acts of criminals."

The statement quoted the NRA's chief lobbyist, Chris W. Cox, as saying, "We are a safer country today because Congress passed this critical legislation and acted to save American icons like Remington, Ruger, Winchester and Smith & Wesson from politically motivated lawsuits. Our men and women in uniform abroad and at home now will not have to rely on France, China or Germany to supply their firearms."

The Washington-based Violence Policy Center, a national gun-control advocacy group, harshly denounced the bill and its backers.

The group's legislative director, Kristen Rand, said in a statement: "This bill is built on a corrupt foundation of lies that will leave a legacy of pain and suffering." She said it would protect the gun industry from "legitimate lawsuits" by plaintiffs -- such as victims of the Washington-area sniper attacks in the fall of 2002 -- who were "injured by the reckless and negligent actions of gun manufacturers and dealers."

"This legislation will make the unregulated gun industry the most pampered industry in America," Rand added.

Last year, two survivors of the sniper attacks and the families of six of the 10 murder victims reached a $2.5 million settlement with the manufacturer of the Bushmaster rifle that was used in the shootings and the Tacoma, Wash., gun shop from which it was stolen.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a Washington-based group that brought the lawsuit, said it would seek to have the legislation struck down on constitutional grounds.

Dennis Henigan, director of the center's Legal Action Project, said in a statement, "The Congress can pass it. The President can sign it. But this shameful law will not stand. We will challenge the constitutionality of this special interest extravaganza in every court where the rights of gun violence victims are being threatened."

Henigan called the bill "an unprecedented attack on the due process rights of victims injured by the misconduct of an industry that seeks to escape the legal rules that govern the rest of us." He said the center's lawyers believe state and federal courts across the country "are prepared to strike it down."