Reprinted from www.libertylobby.org, home of The SPOTLIGHT archive
2nd Amendment advocates win big
New York's highest court has disarmed a throng of plaintiffs in a key class-action lawsuit seeking to make 25 gun manufacturers pay for six killings and a wounding.
The seven-man Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that manufacturers cannot be held liable for the actions of retail gun buyers or those who steal guns.
"The chain most often includes subsequent legal purchasers or even a thief," Judge Richard Wesley said in explaining why the legal doctrine of "negligent entrustment" is inapplicable to gun manufacturers.
The court's interpretation of state law -- from which there is no appeal -- may derail the legal theory that has spawned at least 17 copycat lawsuits by cities across the nation: that marketing and distribution practices by gun manufacturers generated an underground market in handguns for violent criminals.
More evidence of direct negligence would have to be proven, considering the number of federally-licensed dealers and wholesalers who process sales after a gun is manufactured, Judge Wesley said.
The unusual state ruling in a federal case likely will nullify a $4 million federal jury verdict in February 1999 against three gun manufacturers, legal scholars said.
Without proof of which firm made the gun that wounded and permanently disabled Stephen Fox, the jury in the federal case returned a verdict dividing the $4 million award according to the share of the gun market held by American Arms, Inc., Beretta USA Corp. and Taurus International Manufacturing.
"It's an important decision, both from the standpoint of New York state law and from the standpoint of national litigation raising similar issues," said Lawrence Greenwald, a lawyer who represented Beretta USA and American Arms.
The federal appeals court reviewing the judgment against the gun makers had asked the State Court of Appeals whether New York state laws support the finding of negligence in such a gun violence case.
Writing for the court, Judge Wesley said lawyers for the gunshot victims alluded to "broad" and "general" ways that gun makers are liable for handgun injuries, but they failed to show specifically how their sales and marketing led to their guns getting into the wrong hands.
A more "tangible" direct link is needed to show how gun makers contributed to the injuries of the victims and that manufacturers "were realistically in a position to prevent the wrongs," Wesley wrote.
Having been unable to disarm the public through congressional legislation, gun foes have been fighting on the state level with frivolous lawsuits blaming gun manufacturers for crimes and accidents involving firearms.
Many state legislatures have stymied their assaults.
According to the National Rifle Association, Indiana is the 25th state to ban the court actions. Florida any day could be the 26th, putting Second Amendment supporters over the halfway mark.
Anti-gun groups are now switching their attack back to Congress, which is awaiting introduction of a bill by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieber man (D-Conn.), who are calling for "compromise" legislation to do away with gun shows.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) has already introduced legislation previously pushed by former Sen. Frank Lautenburg (D-N.J.), which also calls for an end to gun shows.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to attach an anti-gun bill (S. 767) to legislation dealing with education reform.