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Appeals court dismisses NY suit vs. gun industry

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. federal appeals court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by New York City against gun makers the city targeted in a bid to stop the flow of illegal weapons.

A customer browses for guns in Fort Worth, Texas March 7, 2008. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the city’s claims against the manufacturers and wholesale sellers of firearms, ruling a federal law granted them immunity. The decision overturns a lower court ruling.

The city claimed firearms makers and suppliers marketed guns to legitimate buyers knowing those guns would end up in illegal markets. It argued manufacturers should be required to ensure guns did not end up in illegal hands, including monitoring the activities of the dealers they sold to.

But in a 2-1 decision, the panel of three judges ruled that the gun suppliers did deserve immunity under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a federal law passed in 2005 to prevent firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable for crimes committed with their products.

“Congress clearly intended to protect from vicarious liability members of the firearms industry who engage in the ‘lawful design, manufacture, marketing, distribution, importation or sale’ of firearms,” the appeals court said.

The gun manufacturers had appealed a decision by federal Judge Jack Weinstein, who agreed with the city that the state’s public nuisance law qualified as an exception under the federal law even though he agreed with gun manufacturers that the law was constitutional.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2000 under former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, sought no monetary damages but claimed suppliers marketed guns in deliberate ways.

Such ways included promoting firearms at gun shows, where nonlicensed people can sell guns, as well as knowing about “straw purchases” where people qualified to make gun purchases do so on behalf of others that are not, the lawsuit claimed.


The lawsuit was amended in 2004 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who filed similar civil lawsuits against gun dealers in 2006. Many of those lawsuits have been settled.

“I am disappointed in the Court’s decision,” Bloomberg said in a statement, adding the decision “will not impact” the ongoing remaining cases against gun dealers.

“Regardless of this ruling, we will continue our fight against illegal guns full bore -- in the courtrooms, on the streets, and in the Congress,” he said.

Larry Keane, spokesperson for National Shooting Sports Foundation, said in a statement that Congress intended the law to combat such lawsuits, which “represented a clear abuse of the judicial system that threatened to bankrupt a responsible and law-abiding industry.”

The gun manufacturers include Beretta U.S.A. Corp., Colt Manufacturing, Smith & Wesson Corp., Taurus International Manufacturing, Sigarms Inc., Glock Inc., and Sturm Ruger and Co.

Editing by Daniel Trotta and Doina Chiacu