NAACP files suit demanding reform in gun industry

Manufacturers accused of contributing to deaths through negligence

July 17, 1999|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Saying they want reform, not money, NAACP leaders filed a lawsuit yesterday demanding that nearly 100 gun manufacturers change the way they do business.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., is hotly contested by America's powerful gun lobby because the changes would limit handgun sales and prohibit distributors from selling certain weapons to gun show dealers.

Large firearms manufacturers such as Smith & Wesson, Remington and Glock Inc. are accused in the lawsuit of contributing, through negligence, to handgun-related deaths.

"Such deaths are the result of the defendants' conduct in systematically overproducing and oversupplying handguns in the United States," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit follows the lead of 23 cities and counties -- including Chicago, San Francisco and Miami-Dade -- that have taken the gun industry to court. NAACP officials say this suit differs in that monetary damages are not being sought.

Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that the lawsuit aims to "put the gun industry on notice that it will not be business as usual."

"The gun industry has refused to take even basic measures to keep criminals and prohibited persons from obtaining firearms," Mfume said.

Many of the gun manufacturers named in the suit have taken their defense to the Internet. Smith & Wesson, for instance, has posted on its site an open letter saying that it has been unfairly accused.

"The implications are that Smith & Wesson has no concern about firearms safety," the letter said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. Smith & Wesson is, and has been, concerned with the misuse of our products."

Among the demands in the lawsuit are that gun dealers force distributors to sell firearms only to dealers who have retail store fronts, and that handgun dealers may only sell one handgun per month per customer.

It also demands that gun manufacturers conduct quarterly inspections of all distributors and retailers.

The suit argues that NAACP members have suffered disproportionately because of gun violence. While gun-related crime in the United States has dropped sharply in recent years, African-American victims -- particularly young men -- have seen virtually no changes in such crime.

The suit's filing comes five months after a landmark case in a Brooklyn federal court in which a jury found 15 of 25 manufacturers negligent in the marketing and distribution of handguns.

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