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9/22/2017 12:11:25 AM
Posted: 8/27/2001 7:16:23 AM EDT
[url]http://inq.philly.com/content/inquirer/2001/08/26/national/GUNSUITS26.htm?template=aprint.htm[/url] Attack on gun makers losing steam Sunday, August 26, 2001 By Chris Mondics INQUIRER WASHINGTON BUREAU WASHINGTON - Three years after cities unleashed a wave of lawsuits to hold gun makers accountable for firearm violence, the legal assault has produced few clear victories and little change in the way guns are sold or regulated. And there are signs the litigation may drag on for years without resolution. Since New Orleans filed the first lawsuit on Oct. 28, 1998, nearly half the municipal cases against gun manufacturers have been dismissed, including Philadelphia's and Camden County's; a similar number are moving forward, but are in their early stages. At the same time, courts in New York and California in the last three weeks have rejected high-profile claims by individual victims of gun violence, deciding that gun makers could not be held responsible for their injuries. Lawyers for the cities and gun-control groups that initiated the lawsuits say the cases are still in their infancy, and may yet produce huge judgments against gun makers. But a series of setbacks suggest that cities face formidable obstacles in holding gun makers responsible for crimes committed with handguns. N.Y. lawsuit dismissed The latest setback occurred Aug. 10 when a trial judge in New York dismissed a lawsuit by state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer that sought to hold gun makers and distributors accountable for hundreds of gun killings there each year. The judge said the gun makers had little or no control over the stores that sell their firearms and could not be responsible if their weapons fell into the hands of criminals. "New York is not alone; this is happening all over the country where other cases are being dismissed, but we still believe in the case and we are going to appeal," said Juanita Scarlett, a spokeswoman for Spitzer. Since the suits were filed, a handful of companies have been offering handguns with new safety features such as internal locks and indicators showing whether a gun is loaded. Others, such as Smith & Wesson, are trying to develop so-called smart-gun technology that would prevent anyone but a gun's owner from using it. Smith & Wesson had agreed earlier to sweeping changes in the way it designs and markets guns in exchange for protection from the municipal lawsuits - but is nonetheless a defendant in some of them. Furthermore, gun owners angered at the company's agreement with the Clinton administration boycotted it, cutting into sales. Earlier this year, the gun maker was sold for a fraction of its previous value. Gun-control goals unmet Meantime, gun-control advocates' most important objectives, such as mandatory background checks for all sales at gun shows and national limits on handgun sales, have not been realized. Lawrence Keane, vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group, says new design features were in the works before the lawsuits were filed. "I can't think of a single instance where a manufacturer put a product on the market or took it off because of the litigation," he said.
Link Posted: 8/27/2001 7:18:58 AM EDT
Lawrence Keane, vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group, says new design features were in the works before the lawsuits were filed. "I can't think of a single instance where a manufacturer put a product on the market or took it off because of the litigation," he said. When state attorneys general began settling dozens of lawsuits against tobacco companies several years ago, producing billions of dollars in awards for states, gun-control proponents drew inspiration and reasoned they might have similar success against gun companies. In quick succession, dozens of municipal governments and New York state sued manufacturers, alleging that they had marketed guns in high-crime city neighborhoods, knowing that a large number would end up in the hands of criminals. Several cities conducted undercover investigations of gun stores that produced evidence that dealers in high-crime areas overlooked obvious signs that buyers were breaking the law. The suits relied on the theory that gun companies were responsible for the public safety and health costs engendered by gun violence because they had flooded high-crime areas with guns and created a criminal market for them. David Kairys, a Temple Law School professor assisting in most of the city lawsuits, says the legal battle over guns has come to resemble the one over tobacco. The tobacco companies won every lawsuit filed against them until state attorneys general banded together and sued to recover the public health costs of smoking, a new approach then, Kairys said. Soon after, the tobacco companies settled. "If you look at the early stages of the tobacco litigation, the city suits have actually done better," Kairys contended. He estimated that the litigation could take five to 10 years to work its way through the courts. Of the 19 separate lawsuits by municipalities against gun makers, eight have been dismissed. Seven are moving forward. The balance, including a suit by Camden City, have been mired in preliminary maneuvering. Gun makers have some powerful advantages not shared by the tobacco companies. Gun owners are passionately protective of their sport and are readily mobilized on Election Day. Many Democrats have lately been blaming Al Gore's proposals for tighter gun restrictions for costing them the White House. Responding to that political clout, 27 state legislatures, including Pennsylvania's, have passed laws barring certain suits against gun makers, and those laws are proving to be big obstacles. On Aug. 6, the California Supreme Court ruled 5-1 in a case brought by gun-crime victims that the California legislature specifically barred such suits. The case stemmed from the 1993 massacre of eight people in a San Francisco law office. The gunman, who said he had a grudge against lawyers, opened fire with two TEC-9s, a semiautomatic pistol, and a handgun. Victims and relatives argued that gun maker Navegar Inc., whose ads touted TEC-9s' resistance to fingerprints, deliberately marketed its guns to criminals.
Link Posted: 8/27/2001 7:19:28 AM EDT
But the court said the company - which quietly went out of business in April - could not be held responsible for the criminal conduct of its customers. In the same vein, last December, U.S. District Judge Berle M. Spiller, ruling in Philadelphia, said that laws enacted by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1995 and in 1999 gave the power to regulate gun makers to the state legislature, and barred the city from filing such lawsuits. The judge also found little evidence to connect the marketing and sales practices of the manufacturers to gun crimes. Apart from state laws that have helped gun makers, there is another important difference between the tobacco cases and the gun litigation. To date, no gun-company documents have turned up suggesting any deliberate efforts to develop a market for the guns among criminals. "The tobacco companies played Hide the Salami," and that is not the case with gun firms, said Paul Januzzo, vice president and legal counsel of Glock Inc., the Austrian gun maker. Gun-control advocates are undeterred. Dennis Henigan, legal director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, noted that important city lawsuits in Boston, Los Angeles, Detroit and elsewhere were moving forward. Gun companies have already turned over documents in those cases. Chris Mondics' e-mail address is cmondics@krwashington.com. © Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
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