Gun Control Group Files New Lawsuits to Make A Point

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - A gun control group on Thursday announced it is filing two new lawsuits against gun makers and gun dealers on behalf of crime victims.

The timing of the lawsuits is politically motivated: The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence strongly opposes legislation, being debated in the Senate this week, that would protect the gun industry from lawsuits arising from the criminal misuse of their products.

Second Amendment supporters say such lawsuits are back-door gun control -- intended to ruin gun makers financially.

But anti-gun groups say the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (S. 397) will deprive crime victims' families of their legal rights.

One of the lawsuits filed Thursday with assistance from the Brady Center seeks damages for the family of a 10-year-old Philadelphia boy who was shot and killed on his way to elementary school in February 2004. The child was caught in the cross-fire of a gang war.

The suit charges that American Gun and Lock (formerly known as Fishtown Lock and Gun) of Philadelphia "negligently sold the handgun to a straw purchaser, and that the dealer has helped to create a public nuisance in Philadelphia through its reckless sales practices."

The lawsuit also names Sturm Ruger, the manufacturer of the gun, which "continued to supply American Gun without any reasonable conditions, even after the store had supplied other traffickers." The Brady Center says Sturm Ruger does not require its dealers to follow industry guidelines for preventing straw sales.

"Gun violence does not begin when the trigger is pulled; it starts when a gun is irresponsibly sold and placed into the hands of criminals," said Mark LeWinter of the Anapol Schwartz law firm, which is working with the Brady Center on the Philadelphia lawsuit.

The second lawsuit filed Thursday seeks damages on behalf of Daniel Williams of Buffalo, who was 16 in August 2003 when he was shot and seriously wounded as he played basketball.

The criminal who shot Williams apparently mistook him for a rival gang member.

The suit seeks to recover damages from the gun dealer who "negligently enabled known gang member, Cornell Caldwell, to obtain the gun and shoot Williams," the Brady Center said.

The lawsuit includes negligence and public nuisance claims against gun dealer Charlie Brown; MKS Supply, the distributor of Hi-Point firearms; Hi-Point; the suspected trafficker who sold the gun to gang member Caldwell; and the woman accused of making straw purchase in the first place.

The Brady Center notes that S. 397 would throw out cases like the ones being filed on Thursday.

The way the Brady Center sees it, the legislation now being considered by the Senate "would grant sweeping immunity to negligent and reckless gun sellers and manufacturers, banning nearly all suits against them in all state and federal courts and dismissing pending cases."

The Brady Center also says the bill would give special protections to the gun industry that have never been granted to any other industry.

"Giving immunity to irresponsible gun sellers is a travesty of justice -- the gun industry should not get a 'free pass' for negligent behavior, and innocent victims of gun violence do not deserve to bear the costs created by the gun industry's irresponsible actions," said Elizabeth Haile, a staff attorney with the Brady Center.

But the National Rifle Association and other Second Amendment supporters say the bill the Senate is expected to vote on this week would stop reckless lawsuits, not legitimate lawsuits.

"Suing the firearms industry for street crime is like suing General Motors for criminal acts involving Buicks," the NRA says on its website.

"As long as gun-ban advocates are able to burden firearm manufacturers with the costs of defending themselves in court, the entire gun industry is at risk of being eradicated."

The NRA also notes that S. 397 (and the companion H.R. 800) do provide "carefully tailored protections" for legitimate lawsuits.

The bill allow suits against gun makers and dealers that knowingly violate federal or state law related to gun sales; and it allows lawsuits in more traditional cases, such as breach of contract -- or where guns are sold to minors or obviously intoxicated persons.

The bill also allows product liability cases involving actual injuries caused by an improperly functioning firearm.

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Brady Center Has It All Wrong, Gun Maker Argues (29 July 2005)