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1/18/2006

New York Suit Against Gun Makers May Finally Be Stopped

Given that the legislation last year to restrict suits against gun makers should have already stopped this suit (suits are allowed only when a crime has been committed), the suit should already be dead. In any case, give the poorly done statistical work being done with this data and given U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein's willingness to abuse the law, I am glad to see that this amendment was passed. On the other hand, I would also like to believe that the plaintiffs here are just using the restrictions on the data as an excuse for dropping this abusive case because the law suit would likely die on appeal anyway.

For six years, the nation's gun makers have fought unsuccessfully in a New York federal court to derail a lawsuit alleging that they didn't take adequate steps to determine which dealers repeatedly sell weapons that end up in criminals' hands.

Now, the gun industry has received legislative help from Washington that is likely to do the trick.

With little fanfare, a provision tucked into the 2006 appropriations act for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives signed into law in November for the first time bars contents of the ATF's "gun-trace" database from being used in any federal or state lawsuit that is pending or filed after Nov. 22, 2005.

The provision in the appropriations act, if upheld in courts, "cuts the heart out of our case," says Eric Proshansky, co-lead lawyer for New York on the gun lawsuit. "That's what it was intended to do."

Proponents of the legislation say it was sought by the ATF and will help protect law-enforcement officers from criminals with access to the database, says Chuck Knapp, a spokesman for Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R., Kan.), who first introduced an amendment to limit public access to gun-trace data from ATF in 2003.

The legislation shines a light on this little-known database, which is critical to the New York case. When a gun used in a New York crime is recovered, the ATF traces the path of the weapon from the manufacturer to licensed gun dealers. This information isn't available to the public, but manufacturers, working through gun distributors, have access to it. New York believes gun makers could identify which dealers are selling guns used in crimes and cut them off from future sales rather than continue to do business with them. . . .

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