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April 30, 2008

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Gun Makers Win In New York City

A Manhattan-based federal appeals court has ordered the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against firearms manufacturers by the City of New York that sought to hold the manufacturers responsible for the criminal misuse of firearms. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry's trade association, Judge Robert J. Miner, writing for the U.S. Court of Appeals, held the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, enacted in 2005, is constitutional and that Brooklyn, NY, federal court judge Jack B. Weinstein misinterpreted the law by not dismissing the case.

“We think Congress clearly intended to protect from vicarious liability members of the firearms industry who engage in the 'lawful design, manufacture, marketing, distribution, importation, or sale' of firearms,” said Judge Miner.

In dismissing the city's claim that its suit fit within an exception to the act, a claim that would allow its case to go forward, the court wrote that the statute was “intended to shield the firearms industry from the vicarious liability for harm caused by firearms that were lawfully distributed into primary markets.”
Following the ruling by the court, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel Lawrence G. Keane said, “The ruling is very gratifying to members of the firearms industry. In passing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, Congress understood that frivolous lawsuits like New York City's defied common sense and represented a clear abuse of the judicial system that threatened to bankrupt a responsible and law-abiding industry.”

The city's lawsuit against the nation's firearms manufacturers was originally filed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in June 2000 and was continued by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mayor Bloomberg is also suing out-of-state firearms retailers. That case will go to trial later this month before Judge Weinstein.
According to Keane, the ruling is seen by many as another major setback for gun-control groups, principally the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which pursued and funded many of the municipal lawsuits, including this New York City case, against the firearms industry.

There’s a reason many American manufacturers have backed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Can you imagine what would happen to the economy if General Motors was sued in this manner by a group philosophically opposed to SUVs and large pickup trucks—they’re out there, believe me—by claiming the manufacturer was responsible for any harm caused when a third party—say a bank robber in a stolen car—hurt someone during the commission of a crime?

Judge Weinstein is a well-known opponent of the firearms industry, and it’s no surprise that he resolutely refused to recognize the will of Congress—and ultimately, the will of the American people—in this case.

—Slaton White