- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

A California judge yesterday dismissed 12 municipalities' assertions that gun manufacturers are liable for gun violence, delivering a solid victory to the firearms industry.
Gun-control advocates vowed to appeal Judge Vincent P. DiFiglia's ruling from the bench, in which he said gun manufacturers could not be sued to recover the costs associated with how criminals use firearms.
The judge did allow lawsuits against individual distributors and dealers to continue, but manufacturers declared the ruling a "definitive victory."
"This victory supports the long-held principle that responsible and law-abiding manufacturers of highly regulated, non-defective firearms cannot be held accountable when criminals misuse their legally sold products," said Lawrence G. Keane, vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the umbrella trade association for gun manufacturers.
But Jonathan E. Lowy, a senior attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, called it a split ruling because the cases against individual stores are allowed to proceed. He also said they will appeal the dismissal of the manufacturers.
"Both sides in this case always knew that the basic legal issues in this case were going to be decided by the appellate courts of California, and that's what's going to happen," he said.
Among the 12 municipalities suing in California were San Francisco, Oakland, and the county and city of Los Angeles.
The case is one in a series of lawsuits filed across the nation by counties and cities, at the urging of gun-control advocates. They argue that the manufacturers have refused to implement safer sales practices or encourage firearms dealers to do so and therefore should be liable for the costs associated with gun crimes.
Gun manufacturers and gun rights advocates say their industry is highly regulated, and they argue that they should not be held liable for what criminals do.
Each side claims its share of victories in previous cases: The gun industry points to favorable decisions in Louisiana, Florida, Connecticut and Georgia and by a federal appeals court in Philadelphia.
Brady Center officials, meanwhile, point to rulings by the Ohio Supreme Court and Illinois Court of Appeals that allowed lawsuits to go forward.
Mr. Lowy was also optimistic about the California appeals court because it has allowed lawsuits to proceed before.
The previous time the lawsuits were blocked by the California Supreme Court, but Mr. Lowy said that was based on a statute that has since been changed.
Mr. Keane said yesterday's decision should put to rest the assertions made by Robert Ricker, a former executive with the American Shooting Sports Council, an industry trade association, whose affidavit in the case gun-control advocates hailed as a "smoking gun."
Mr. Ricker said manufacturers refused to require gun dealers to stop "questionable sales," instead adopting a "see-no-evil, speak-no-evil" approach.
Mr. Keane said those "lame assertions can now be seen for what they were."
But Mr. Lowy said the industry hasn't actually refuted Mr. Ricker's charges.
"The evidence that we obtained in sworn statements and documents from the gun industry in this case shows that the gun industry has intentionally made the decision to supply corrupt gun dealers and utilize corrupt sales practices in order to profit from the criminal gun market," he said.

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