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

Because of lobbying by gun-rights groups, there are more restrictions on the government’s use of trace data than when the lawsuits began and the industry continues to oppose limits on multiple gun sales to a single buyer, a major theme of the lawsuits — it is in court fighting a new requirement that dealers report such rifle sales under certain circumstances.

Regarding Beretta’s testimony in 2002 about multiple sales, the general counsel of Beretta USA, Jeffrey Reh, said last week that it was possible he had not understood the questions being asked because of the language barrier.

“That being said, I can advise you that Beretta USA’s position is and has always been that the purchase by an individual of multiple firearms is not, in and of itself, evidence of improper or suspicious behavior,” Reh said.

In all, more than 30 cities, counties or states filed a lawsuit against gun makers beginning in the late 1990s. The theory behind the litigation — that the industry was negligent, or willfully blind, in its sales practices — was similar to the one employed in the successful suits against tobacco companies that same decade.

Jonathan Lowy, the legal director for the Brady Center, which was involved in most of the suits, said firearms makers “should have a code of basic, reasonable business practices that dealers and distributors who sell their guns are required to follow.”

He said Beretta’s testimony showed that the US gun industry was out of touch.

For their part, the manufacturers argued that the lawsuits were a frivolous abuse of the courts to grind them down financially. They also pointed to voluntary measures, like the industry trade association’s distribution of safety locks to gun owners, as evidence of their concern about reducing accidents.

The Times reached out to a half-dozen gun makers for comment. Most did not respond or declined, but Timothy Bumann, a lawyer for Taurus International Manufacturing, reiterated some of the arguments made by gun executives in their depositions, saying Taurus is not a law enforcement agency and has no legal duty to do more to police its dealers and distributors.

Nevertheless, he said, the company is “proactive in all the things it reasonably can do vis-a-vis the safe and lawful use of its product.”

Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the industry’s trade association, said in an e-mail that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “does not want manufacturers to play Junior G-man.”

He also highlighted a number of ways the association had worked with the bureau — including an education program to prevent people from illegally buying guns and transferring them to people barred from doing so that was more than a decade old — as evidence of the industry’s commitment.

However, the lawsuits were bolstered by testimony from several former industry insiders. The most prominent was Robert Ricker, a former lawyer for the National Rifle Association (NRA) and executive director of the American Shooting Sports Council, the main gun industry trade association before it was disbanded.

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