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Accord Reached on Bill to Ease Lawsuits Against Gun Makers
NY Times ^ | January 5, 2005 | WINNIE HU

The Bloomberg administration has reached agreement with City Council leaders on a bill that would make it easier for crime victims to sue gun manufacturers and dealers who do not adhere to strict guidelines for selling and distributing their firearms.

The bill, which is expected to pass the Council today, would allow civil suits to be filed against the manufacturers and dealers unless they voluntarily adopt a "code of conduct." That code would include restrictions like selling no more than one handgun to a particular person within a 30-day period and requiring background checks of all prospective buyers at gun shows.

If a gun manufacturer or dealer chooses not to adhere to these guidelines, the bill seeks to hold those businesses legally responsible if their firearms result in death or injury to people in New York City.

While the gun liability bill would be the first passed in New York, similar laws have been adopted in San Francisco and Washington. The San Francisco law seeks to hold gun manufacturers, importers and dealers responsible for injuries or deaths caused by their firearms unless they equip those firearms with certain kinds of safety devices. In Washington, they would be held liable if they sold an assault weapon or machine gun.

In New York City, which already has some of the toughest gun control laws in the nation, the gun liability bill is part of a broader package of proposals intended to reduce illegal gun trafficking. The proposals also include ratcheting up penalties for people who violate the city's assault weapons ban and increasing the minimum age for permits for rifles or shotguns to 21 from 18.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who appeared yesterday at a news conference at Middle School 88 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, said his administration had been working closely with the Council on the gun control bills and pledged to sign them into law. "They make a lot of sense," he said.

Councilman David Yassky, the main sponsor of the gun liability bill, said the gun industry had knowingly engaged in lax sales practices that allowed their products to fall into criminal hands. He said that holding manufacturers and dealers responsible was "the first big step toward shutting down the handgun highway that continues to flood New York City with illegal crime guns."

Mr. Yassky had initially proposed an even stricter version of the code of conduct that included a provision prohibiting manufacturers from selling guns to retailers that had provided 20 or more guns traced to crimes in one year. But Council Speaker Gifford Miller said yesterday that the provision was dropped after national gun control groups expressed concerns that it would make the bill harder to defend against critics.

Lawrence G. Keane, general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the gun industry, said the code of conduct was unconstitutional and would be impractical and burdensome on manufacturers and dealers.

"It's an attempt to regulate the interstate commerce in firearms by using the threat of lawsuits and monetary damages to coerce manufacturers and dealers to change their sales and distribution practices, which are lawful under federal and state law," Mr. Keane said.

Patrick W. Brophy, a director of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, which represents about 40,000 gun owners, said the code of conduct would only inconvenience gun collectors while doing little to reduce crime. He said that most gun dealers already perform background checks. "The means don't achieve the end," he said.

Mr. Brophy said that his association is considering several options, including filing a lawsuit to challenge the new law.
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