- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2003

In a blow to anti-gun advocates, a federal jury in Brooklyn on Wednesday rejected a lawsuit filed by the NAACP blaming gun manufacturers and distributors for gun violence in minority neighborhoods. In its lawsuit, the NAACP had argued that 68 defendants used marketing practices that were responsible for the violence. But the jury found that 45 of them were not culpable and deadlocked on the remaining 23 firms. All of the companies argued commonsensically that the blame for crime rested with the hoodlums who misused the guns — not businesses that made lawful sales to the public.

Unfortunately, the jury’s verdict is only an advisory one. The presiding judge (U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, who is said to be one of the most liberal jurists on the federal bench) will actually decide the case. Representatives of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association representing gun makers, expect Judge Weinstein to throw out the jury verdict and rule against many, if not all, of the 68 defendants sued.

Judging from the weak case put forward by the NAACP during the six-week-long trial, this would be a travesty of justice. The organization brought forward a pile of confusing data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) purporting to show that some gun manufacturers and dealers were more likely than others to have their guns used in crimes. The NAACP’s goal was to use this data to get a federal court injunction putting new restrictions on the sale and manufacturing of handguns.

But, when subject to careful statistical analysis, the NAACP’s case fell apart. The defense case included testimony from Nancy Mathiowetz, an expert on survey methods, who showed that the NAACP witnesses made numerous errors in methodology in interpreting the BATF data. Perhaps the most compelling witness for the firearms industry was Professor Gary Kleck, a criminologist who rebutted one of the NAACP’s central arguments: that criminals are obtaining their guns from firearms dealers (whose industry is heavily regulated). Mr. Kleck testified that gun trafficking by these dealers is extremely rare and that few criminals obtain firearms at gun shows. Mr. Kleck also presented data showing that criminals were more likely to use stolen guns, and that the far-reaching restrictions on dealers sought by the NAACP would not stop criminals from obtaining guns.

While the jury wisely rejected the arguments by the NAACP (which, at one point during the trial, tried to liken the gun industry to segregationists), it remains to be seen whether Judge Weinstein will have the good sense to follow their lead. Don’t be surprised to see this case coming to a federal appeals court near you sometime soon.

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