Thu, May 30, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Gun makers say illegal sales are not their problem

More than 30 US cities, counties or states filed a lawsuit against gun makers from the late 1990s onward using a similar theory to successful suits against tobacco firms, but they all ran aground

By Mike McIntire and Michael Luo  /  NY Times News Service

Illustration: Mountain People

The Glock executive testified that he would keep doing business with a gun dealer who had been indicted on a charge of violating firearms laws because: “This is still America,” and “You’re still innocent until proven guilty.”

The president of Sturm, Ruger & Co was not interested in knowing how often the police traced guns back to the company’s distributors, saying it “wouldn’t show us anything.”

Meanwhile, a top executive for Taurus International Manufacturing Inc said his company made no attempt to learn if dealers who sell its products were involved in gun trafficking on the black market.

“I don’t even know what a gun trafficker is,” he said.

The world’s firearms manufacturers have been largely silent in the debate over gun violence, but their voices emerge from thousands of pages of depositions in a series of liability lawsuits a decade ago, before US Congress passed a law shielding them from such suits in 2005. It was the only time many of them were forced to answer such questions.

Much of the testimony was marked confidential, and transcripts were packed away in archives at law firms and courthouses around the country, but a review of the documents, which were obtained by the New York Times, shows the industry’s leaders arguing, often with detachment and defiance, that their companies bear little responsibility, beyond what the law requires, for monitoring the distributors and dealers who sell their guns to the public.

The executives claimed not to know if their guns had ever been used in a crime. They eschewed voluntary measures to lessen the risk of them falling into the wrong hands and they denied that common danger signs — like a single person buying many guns at once or numerous “crime guns” that are traced to the same dealer — necessarily meant anything at all.

Charles Brown’s company, MKS Supply, is the sole distributor of an inexpensive brand of gun that frequently turns up in criminal investigations. He said he never examined the trace requests that MKS received from federal agents to learn which of his dealers sold the most crime guns.

This lack of interest was echoed by Charles Guevremont, the president of the gun manufacturer Browning Arms Co, who testified that his company would have no reason to review the practices of a dealer who was the subject of numerous trace requests.

“That’s not for us to enforce the law,” Guevremont said.

A discordant note was sounded by one executive — Ugo Gussalli Beretta, a scion of the family of Italian firearms makers. His testimony indicated that he did not understand how easy it was to buy multiple guns in the US, compared with his home country.

Questioned by a lawyer for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, he said he believed — incorrectly — that Beretta USA had a policy requiring its dealers to first determine if there was “a legitimate need” for someone to buy so many guns.

Asked why he thought that, Beretta replied: “common sense.”

Because the testimony came in the context of high-stakes litigation, it is difficult to tell how much of it reflected a studied attempt to avoid liability or a fundamentally laissez-faire attitude toward the firearms trade. Even so, many of those who testified are still with the same companies and the issues they were asked about have not gone away.

In the wake of the elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, and other recent high-profile shootings, the gun industry’s response — that existing laws should be better enforced rather than new restrictions imposed — largely mirrors its stance from a decade ago.

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