Gun Dealer Settles Lawsuit; 'Gun Trace' Amendment Passes

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

( - A West Virginia gun dealer agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit against him on Wednesday -- a victory for gun-control groups. But just hours later, the House Appropriations Committee passed a measure that is considered a victory for the gun industry.

The amendment would prevent anti-gun groups from using certain federal gun records in civil lawsuits against the firearms industry.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), the amendment's sponsor, said he introduced the legislation after a court ruling last month in New York City. That ruling said the city could use federal gun records -- information on a gun's sales history and whether it was used in crimes -- as part of the city's "public nuisance" lawsuit against dozens of gun-makers and distributors.

Under the Tiahrt amendment, only prosecutors could use such "gun trace" information as part of criminal -- not civil -- investigations.

The National Rifle Association was pleased by the passage of Tiarht's amendment, but the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said Americans ought to be outraged.

"This is a common sense proposal aimed at protecting gun owners' and law enforcement privacy," said Chris W. Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist.

"Firearms trace data has absolutely no correlation to firearms used in crimes," Cox added. He said anti-gun groups are "misusing" gun trace information as part of their effort to bankrupt the gun industry.

But Michael Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign, called it "unbelievable" that the Tiahrt amendment would prevent even judges from seeing data showing where criminals obtained their guns.

Gun dealer settles

The Tiahrt amendment passed just hours after a West Virginia judge approved a settlement requiring a gun dealer to pay $1-million in damages to two former police officers from Orange, N.J.

The officers were shot and seriously injured in January 2001 by an armed robber.

The lawsuit charged Will Jewelry & Loan of Charleston, W.Va., of negligence and creating a public nuisance for selling 12 guns at one time to a "straw purchaser," Tammi Lea Songer, who bought the guns for trafficker James Gray, who could not legally buy the guns himself.

According to the Brady Campaign, the case is the first in the nation in which a gun dealer has paid damages for supplying guns to a gun trafficker, who in turn sold them into the illegal market.

"This landmark settlement sends a loud and clear message to the gun industry that gun sellers will pay a high price if they act irresponsibly and sell guns into the illegal market," said Dennis Henigan, director of the Legal Action Project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

"The era when gun dealers could supply the criminal 'iron pipeline,' with no consequences, is over," Henigan said.

According to the lawsuit, Gray and Songer went to the pawnshop together, where Gray pointed out the guns he wanted to a store employee and Songer completed the paperwork for the Brady background check. Songer testified that she and Gray were both high on drugs when they were in the store.

The plaintiffs' case against the gun's distributor, Accusport, and the manufacturer, Sturm, Ruger, is still pending before the court.

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