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Posted: 8/22/2001 7:56:01 AM EDT
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ct/20010821/cr/lawsuits_aimed_at_gun_industry_advance_despite_key_setback_1.html Lawsuits aimed at gun industry advance despite key setback Tuesday August 21 06:02 PM EDT Lawsuits aimed at gun industry advance despite key setback By John Springer, Court TV The assault on the gun industry by many of the nation's city and county governments will continue, lawyers say, despite a recent setback for the State of New York. A state judge ruled August 10 that, although there is no doubt that the unlawful use of guns presents a "public nuisance" under law, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's complaint failed to link legally manufactured and distributed guns to the nuisance. Few took notice of the suit's dismissal, and it attracted scant media attention, but the ruling was important because it furthers a trend of favorable decisions for the gun industry, said Lawrence Keane, vice president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association and defendant in many of the suits. "You hear nothing about them when they're dismissed ... I find it absolutely stunning that a state attorney general sues an entire industry, has his case thrown out of court and there's not a single line of coverage in the major media," Keane said, alleging a media bias against the industry. "Not one line buried in the paper, not one." Of the 32 lawsuits filed by cities, counties and New York State against the industry between October 1998 and June 2000, nine suits were dismissed — including those brought by New York State, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cincinnati, Bridgeport, Conn., and Miami-Dade County. "There hasn't been a new case filed in 14 months. Other cities are concluding that these lawsuits are not viable and a waste of taxpayer money," Keane said. "These cases are failing because they are an improper attempt to regulate a legitimate, responsible industry through litigation. It is not the role of the judiciary to act as legislatures." Backers of the movement, which is loosely fashioned after the successful legal attack on the tobacco industry, say the pro-gun lobby shouldn't go half-cocked by declaring victory just yet. More than half of the lawsuits — including actions brought by Boston, Atlanta and a dozen California communities — either survived motions to dismiss, await hearings or are in the discovery stage. The first case is expected to reach trial, either in Massachussetts or California, sometime next year. "I think any industry celebration of their legal fortunes would be quite premature. Cases against the industry filed by 19 different cities are going forward," said Dennis Henigan, director of the Legal Action Project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "Even the cases that have been dismissed, the story has not been finally written. There are appeals." The nonprofit Brady Center, formerly Handgun Control Inc., is named for former White House press secretary James Brady, who suffered disabling injuries from a handgun fired by Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin, John Hinckley. Even if only a few of the lawsuits are successful, the potential exposure to liability and the costs of defending itself should give the industry cause to pause, said Henigan, whose organization is working on behalf of plaintiffs in 26 of the 32 suits.
Link Posted: 8/22/2001 8:01:47 AM EDT
"Ultimately, we want reform. How that happens will be up to the industry. It may be that the courts will order the industry to reform ...," Henigan said. "As discovery proceeds, it must be very threatening to the industry, which has always been a very secretive industry and been able to evade public disclosure. Public disclosure led to a large reversal of fortune for the tobacco industry." Getting New York's failed lawsuit to the discovery phase was a key goal of the state's attorney general, said Darren Dopp, a spokesperson for Spitzer. "We wanted to get to discovery and have a tobacco type of revelation," Dopp said, referring to the discovery of documents and witnesses that proved that cigarette makers knew their products were addictive and hid it. "We're planning to appeal. We're quite disappointed, but no one was shocked. It was kind of a novel approach to begin with." Because the lawsuits were brought in many different state and federal jurisdictions and employ various legal theories, it is difficult to attach too much significance to any individual ruling, said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. "I don't think there is a tide either way," he said. "I think [the suits] raise the public awareness about the need for gun safety and the need for industry accountability. All we are really trying to do is make guns safe and kept out of the hands of children and criminals." Copyright © 2001 Courtroom Television Network LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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