- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

A Brooklyn jury yesterday rejected the NAACP’s accusation that marketing policies of 45 major gun makers and distributors drive violence in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

In a highly unusual advisory verdict, 12 jurors, five of them black, vindicated 45 defendants — among them Colt and Glock — but were unable to reach a decision on the other 23 defendants, including Sturm, Ruger and Smith & Wesson. U.S. District Judge Jack P. Weinstein will now make a final ruling in the case.

The handgun industry quickly deemed it a victory.

“It’s very clear this advisory jury has seen through the rhetoric and junk science,” said Lawrence Keane, vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents the gun industry.

Mathew Nosanchuk, litigation director of the anti-gun Violence Policy Center, emphasized that the jury’s advisory decision is not final, while NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said he was disappointed.

“Litigation is like sports. The defendants ran the ball back 90 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the game is not over yet,” said Mr. Nosanchuk, who advised the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the case.

The jury deliberated five days after a month of testimony on the NAACP assertion that manufacturers were negligent because they knew corrupt dealers supplied guns to criminals in black and Hispanic neighborhoods and did nothing to stop them.

Its verdict was deemed purely advisory by Judge Weinstein, who often has ruled against the gun industry and applied novel theories of responsibility in decisions later overturned by state and federal appeals courts.

Judge Weinstein will decide who is liable and what remedies to impose in all 68 cases. He directed lawyers for all sides to recommend within 30 days how he should interpret yesterday’s complex verdict.

Unanimous verdicts were delivered favoring 38 defendants, with splits of 11-1 or 10-2 for the other seven. Advisory juries may be consulted by a judge in so-called “equity” cases involving a claim of public nuisance under common law where no clear statute or constitutional provision applies.

Mr. Nosanchuk said the stumbling block for jurors appeared to be reluctance to find that the NAACP “suffered a special injury” as the law requires.

National Rifle Association lobbyist Chris Cox said the “common sense” verdict rejected NAACP intentions of “bankrupting a law-abiding American industry by holding them liable for the actions of criminals.”

Judge Weinstein’s decision could become moot if Congress passes and the president signs a pending measure to bar lawsuits against companies that legally make and sell weapons later used by criminals. Democrats threatened Tuesday to filibuster the bill.

Although Judge Weinstein could force gun makers to pay the plaintiffs and their lawyers, the NAACP did not ask for monetary damages and seeks instead to allow gun sales only at established stores and to permit individuals to buy no more than one gun a month.

The industry calls that unfair.

“It’s wrong to blame manufacturers for the actions of criminals. It’s like blaming car manufacturers for drunken-driving accidents,” said Mr. Keane, who insisted during the trial that use of a gun in a crime does not mean that anyone involved in the legal stream of commerce was involved in that crime.

The NAACP says gun makers continue to supply dealers who have sold firearms seized from criminals. Evidence in the case included a study that showed most illegally used guns are repeatedly sold by a small minority of gun dealers.

Sales information from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms showed that 86 percent of all dealers never sold a gun traced to a crime, according to a study by Howard Andrews of the Columbia University School of Public Health.

Mr. Andrews said 90 percent of the 11,700 guns seized in New York City from 1995 to 2000 came from outside the state. Most of the other 10 percent came from three New York City dealers and one in Long Island. One store called John Jovino, near New York City police headquarters, sold 102 of them, more than any other store, except two in Virginia that are out of business.

Thomas Fennell, a lawyer for Colt’s Manufacturing, elicited testimony showing that Mr. Andrews’ study paid little or no attention to the age of a gun or the amount of time that passed between a sale and when it was used to commit a crime.

Early in 2001, New York’s top state court disarmed a swarm of plaintiffs in a key class-action lawsuit — also presided over by Judge Weinstein — that sought to make 25 gun makers pay for six murders and a wounding. It ruled unanimously that manufacturers cannot be held liable for the actions of retail gun buyers or even those who steal guns.

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