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Gunmaker negligence trial in jury's hands

Defense lawyers say the gun industry is strictly regulated and they can't control the illegal flow of guns


In this story:

'Who is responsible?'

Marketing strategies in legal cross hairs


February 4, 1999
Web posted at: 9:25 a.m. EST (1425 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A federal jury began deliberations Thursday in a potentially groundbreaking case about whether gun makers can be held liable for gun violence.

In closing arguments Wednesday, lawyers for gun manufacturers denied responsibility for shooting deaths. They said gun makers can't control the illegal flow of guns, nor can they stop criminals from pulling the trigger.

"A manufacturer of a legal product does not control criminals who misuse their products," argued defense attorney John Renzulli. "GM doesn't control people who get drunk and drive and harm someone."

The more than 20 defendants include virtually all major American handgun manufacturers and several small and specialty gun firms.

'Who is responsible?'

But families of seven shooting victims, only one of whom -- Stephen Fox -- survived, blame gun makers for negligently supplying the guns that claimed the lives of their loved ones.

"Why are these guns so available? How can they get these illegal guns? Why is no one responsible?" asked plaintiff Veronica Trott. "Who is responsible?"

Lawyers for the families say gun makers are responsible because they sell huge numbers of guns in legal markets with lax gun laws. The attorneys say those guns often wind up on the black market.

"We have shown how the guns come from the Southeastern United States and they flow right up to New York, where they flow right into the underground market and (are) used in crime," insisted plaintiff attorney Denise Dunleavy.

But gun makers said that is not so. "There certainly wasn't any evidence in this case that the legal gun market was fueling the illegal market," argued defense attorney Anne Kimball.

Lawyers for gun makers also said the gun industry is strictly regulated. And, they argued, short of not making guns at all, it could not have prevented the victims' deaths.

Marketing strategies in legal cross hairs

The unprecedented case based on an argument of negligent marketing has been watched closely as a test run for similar lawsuits already filed or planned by various cities.

Chicago, New Orleans, Miami-Dade County and Bridgeport, Connecticut, are suing the industry. Philadelphia and Baltimore are among those considering it.

The mother of one shooting victim said regardless of how the verdict turns out, she hoped the case would force gun makers to play a bigger role in keeping weapons away from criminals.

Reuters contributed to this report.

New Orleans under fire for gun swap with Glock
January 29, 1999
Shooting victims' suit against gun industry opens in New York
January 6, 1999
Two more cities sue gun manufacturers
January 27, 1999
U.S. mayors' group pushing for gun violence law
January 28, 1999

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
National Rifle Association
Smith & Wesson
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