July 2003

Downrange 07/03: Firearms Industry Wins Victory

A 12-member advisory jury in the NAACP’s Brooklyn lawsuit against the firearms industry exonerated manufacturers and distributors with a decision that found unanimously for 38 of the industry defendants. Jurors found for seven other defendants by a vote of at least 10 of the 12 jurors, and in 23 additional instances the jury failed to come to a decision. Not a single defendant was found to be either intentionally or negligently responsible for a public nuisance the NAACP claims occurs within the highly regulated and federally licensed chain of distribution and sale of firearms in America.

“We welcome the advisory jury’s common sense finding that the manufacturers and distributors of firearms are not responsible for the criminal misuse of their products,” said firearms-industry attorney Lawrence Keane, vice president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “The jury understood that these law-abiding companies had done absolutely nothing to cause a public nuisance in New York or harm the NAACP and its members. The proper thing for this court to do is dismiss the case immediately.”

The Federal Court’s advisory jury’s decision can be accepted or rejected in whole or in part by Judge Jack B. Weinstein in the next 30 days.

This case adds to a growing list of decisions demonstrating that the firearms industry should not be held liable for the criminal misuse of its products.

The NAACP’s suit and similar actions are the reason why the Senate needs to pass the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (S. 659). Last month the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the bill. A majority of the Senate already supports the bill, as does the White House. More than 30 states have enacted similar legislation.

The National Association of Manufacturers recently weighed in on this issue by saying, ‘Today it’s handguns, but tomorrow it could be power tools, golf clubs or automobiles. Manufacturers of perfectly lawful properly designed and well functioning products can’t rationally be held liable for third-party actions that may result in harm to another.’”

A plaintiff truly injured by a defective product, an illegally sold firearm, or a firearm sold by a dealer to an irresponsible person would still be able to bring a lawsuit against a firearm manufacturer or dealer. For example, a recent jury verdict in California against Bryco, a gun manufacturer, for selling an allegedly defective product would not be blocked.

This legislation would not prevent lawsuits where the firearm was sold in violation of the thousands of federal, state and local laws and regulations that govern the sale of firearms.

The NAACP’s legal theory have already been rejected by New York’s highest Court in an earlier case, Hamilton v. Accu-Tek.

The gun control agenda the NAACP wants Brooklyn federal court judge Jack B. Weinstein to impose on the sale and distribution of firearms nationwide is a matter our Constitution says is to be democratically debated and decided by Congress, and is not a proper role for courts. This case is an attempted end-run around Congress and state legislatures.


-by Todd Woodard