- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2003

A federal judge yesterday dismissed a lawsuit by the NAACP that claimed gun manufacturers endangered minorities in New York by irresponsibly marketing firearms.

While agreeing there is “clear and convincing evidence” that gun dealers are guilty of “careless practices,” U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein ruled that members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were not “uniquely harmed” by illegal use of firearms.

Gun-control advocates said the ruling that the NAACP lacked legal standing was based on a “technicality.” Gun owners’ groups said the decision showed Congress must act to stop “frivolous” lawsuits against firearms makers.

Judge Weinstein’s decision follows a trial in May in which an advisory jury cleared 45 gun manufacturers and distributors of negligence for illegal, violent acts carried out with handguns.

In his conclusion to a case that began in 1999 and cost gun makers an estimated $10 million to defend, the judge wrote that courts should create “new legal solutions … to overriding social problems even when other branches of the government are heavily involved in attempting to solve the problems.”

The NAACP’s suit accused major gun makers of not acting to prevent dealers from selling firearms to criminals in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

Judge Weinstein wrote in his ruling that the NAACP proved its members suffered “relatively more harm from the nuisance created by the defendants through illegal availability of guns in New York.” But, he added, the civil rights group did not “show that its harm was different in kind from that suffered by other persons in New York.”

Supporters of a pending Senate bill that would protect gun manufacturers from class-action suits said Judge Weinstein’s ruling demonstrates the need for congressional action.

Lawrence Keane, general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said the judge “slapped the jury in the face” by blaming gun makers.

“This ruling is the poster child for what Congress must act to stop,” Mr. Keane said. “The fact is that the jury listened to all the evidence and rejected the NAACP’s case.”

The House in March overwhelmingly approved a bill to block lawsuits against gun makers. A spokesman for Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, said a Senate version has 54 co-sponsors — six short of the votes needed to overcome a promised filibuster led by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat.

The bill is not expected to come up for a vote on the Senate floor until after the August recess, at the earliest.

“We’re getting pretty close,” said Will Hart, spokesman for Mr. Craig, the measure’s chief sponsor. Several senators have told Mr. Craig that they’ll vote for his bill but haven’t joined as co-sponsors, Mr. Hart said.

“Support has been steadily growing,” he said. “Senator Craig thinks momentum is in our favor.”

Democrats pledge to fight Mr. Craig’s bill to the end.

“If the Republicans want to go down that road, Senator Lautenberg and a number of Democrats will make it as tough a road as possible,” Lautenberg spokesman Alex Formuzis said.

The Democrats will offer amendments, he said, that will make for “some of the toughest votes the senators will face this year.”

Mr. Lautenberg said Judge Weinstein’s ruling proves that “Congress needs to do more to address the gun industry’s reckless activities.”

“A federal judge has found that corrupt gun dealers are a menace to a safe, peaceful society,” Mr. Lautenberg said. “Unfortunately, a legal technicality prevented the court from ruling against these reckless gun dealers.”

Mr. Keane said “technicality” was all that had kept Judge Weinstein from “disregarding the laws of New York state” and “imposing radical gun control through the courts and circumventing the legislative process.”

“We will be sure to make legislators aware of what Judge Weinstein has done here,” Mr. Keane said.

Blaine Rummel, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, called the ruling a “capital ‘V’ victory.”

“The decision clearly demonstrated that gun makers hold a responsibility for gun violence,” Mr. Rummel said, adding that his group is “very close” to convincing 41 senators to filibuster Mr. Craig’s bill.

“If this was a done deal, it would have been done a long time ago,” Mr. Rummel said.

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