For the first time since the assault-weapons ban five years ago,
firearms manufacturers are on the defensive.
Cities are starting to bring lawsuits, the White House is
up efforts to rein in sales at gun conventions, and the industry
faces the threat of an increasing number of lawsuits brought by
individuals who are the victims of gun violence.
Last week, antigun advocates were particularly buoyed by a New
York jury verdict that found a group of gun manufacturers marketed
their arms negligently and were directly responsible for three
killings. "I am sure this is going to shake the industry to its
foundations," says Dennis Henigan, legal director for the Center to
Prevent Handgun Violence in Washington.
As a result of the Brooklyn verdict, many experts expect other
victims of handgun violence to be encouraged to file lawsuits. Mr.
Henigan compares the lawsuit to the tobacco litigation, which took
years of trials before plaintiffs began to find legal theories that
might succeed. "This is going to send a message to the plaintiffs'
bar to take a fresh look," he says.
Even the industry, which plans to appeal the verdict, says the
defeat could cause problems. "The public perception would be that we
lost this case - even if we win on appeal - and that would fuel
lawsuits against us," says Richard Feldman of the American Sports
Shooting Council, a Washington organization that represents gun
In addition, the verdict might spark other cities and states to
file suits. On Feb. 4, Atlanta joined Chicago, Miami-Dade County,
and Bridgeport, Conn., in filing suit against the firearms
In six months, legal experts expect another dozen lawsuits. "The win
might make them come quicker," says David Kairys, a professor at
Temple University Law School in Philadelphia who came up with the
original concept of cities suing the gun companies.
Long road ahead
Despite the Brooklyn verdict, winning the lawsuits may still be a
challenge. A recent survey by DecisionQuest, a Los Angeles trial
consultant, found 62 percent of the people it surveyed were against
the lawsuits. "Unlike product liability, where people feel
threatened, here they are concerned that their civil liberties are
being impinged on," says Philip Anthony, chief executive of
DecisionQuest, which does not represent any gun manufacturers.
Some key organizations are starting to get involved in the fight.
Last week, the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the nation's
most potent interest groups, decided to put some of its energy into
fighting the lawsuits. …