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Wouldn’t you think it absurd if the next time there is a vehicular
homicide by a criminal escaping from the police in a high-speed chase, the
city or town slapped a lawsuit on the manufacturer of the car, involved in
the homicide? Would we expect the car manufacturer to ensure that the
operator of the automobile was qualified to drive, let alone safely operate
a vehicle going at speeds over the legal limit? Most rational thinking
people agree that those kinds of expectations are not reasonable or even
feasible.

Think again, in the case of firearms manufacturers, cities, counties, and
states are filing lawsuits with those kinds of expectations. Yesterday,
April 12, 2000, the city of Philadelphia finally decided to file the suit
against firearms’ manufacturers it had been threatening for more than two
years. After much posturing by former Mayor Rendell (now Chairman of the
Democratic National Committee) on the issue, Mayor Street in defiance of a
Pennsylvania law prohibiting such suits announced the initiation of a
lawsuit against 14 firearms manufacturers including Smith & Wesson (S&W),
the only firearms’ manufacturer that signed an agreement with the Clinton
administration. As time marches on, it is becoming evident that S&W has
not benefited from their capitulation to the Clinton administration and
lawsuit-happy governments.

Philadelphia’s is attempting to circumvent the new Pennsylvania state law
prohibiting such lawsuits by alleging “illegal activity by the gun makers –
creating a public nuisance.” The suit, like many others being brought by
other city governments, charges the handgun manufacturers with negligence in
the distribution of the guns thus making it easy for juveniles and criminals
to buy them. According to the Philadelphia Daily
News,

the lawsuit is being underwritten by “Several private attorneys and firms –
including Temple law professor David Kairys, who prepared a similar lawsuit
that former Mayor Ed Rendell decided not to file, and Joseph C. Kohn, former
Democratic candidate for attorney general — are working on the case for a
contingent fee of 20 percent, payable only if the city wins.”

Both State Rep. Robert W. Godshall, a Republican from Montgomery County,
and State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, Philadelphia Democrat, agreed that the
city’s lawsuit was not winnable and clearly violated state law. Governor
Ridge’s spokesman said the legislature “was clear in its intent and
questioned the legal basis for the suit.”

At the same news conference the city also announced that it was going to
give away 6,000 gunlocks to city residents donated by a local gun
manufacturer, North American Arms in Plymouth Meeting and the National
Shooting Sports Foundation, a foundation supported by the firearms industry.
NSSF’s primary mission is to promote the safe recreational use of firearms
through education and training.

We know that all the training and education from NSSF, individual gun
manufacturers, and the National Rifle Association’s thousands of certified
firearms instructors has not and does not impact on the criminal use of
firearms. Criminals are people who break laws intentionally. They rarely
purchase their firearms legally and don’t care about safety or responsible
usage. A criminal using a gun or driving a get-away car at 100 mph doesn’t
care about safe handling of either “tool.” It’s absurd for cities to expect
manufacturers to be able to stop criminals from illegal activity or to
educate them as to the safe and responsible usage of the equipment.

Still, the city of Riverside, Calif., filed a lawsuit on April 10 against
Lorcin Manufacturing, a manufacturer of affordable self-defense handguns,
using just such logic. The lawsuit arises out of an incident I mentioned in
my Feb. 11, 1999 column, “Gunned Down in a Hail of
Bullets.”
On the evening of Dec. 28, 1998, Tyisha Miller, a
19-year-old female was sitting in a locked car with a handgun in her lap.
After she failed to respond to police orders to drop the gun and come out of
the car, police officers broke the window of her car and then shot and
killed her.

Miller’s friends, who called 911, alleged that she was in need of medical
attention and was not a threat to the police officers. Although the police
officers stated that they fired in self-defense, an investigation revealed
that the gun had never been fired and was inoperable. As a result of the
investigation the police department fired the four police officers
responsible for Tyisha’s death.

As would be expected her family has filed a wrongful death suit against
the city of Riverside. The city is using a bizarre defense to justify a
lawsuit against the manufacturer of Tyisha’s gun. According to the
Press-Enterprise, Riverside filed a lawsuit against Lorcin Manufacturing, the
company that manufactured Tyisha’s gun, stating that Lorcin negligently
marketed and distributed the .380 ACP caliber gun. The city contends,
“Lorcin failed to educate or train users regarding the safe and correct way
to use guns.” Skip Miller, the city attorney for Riverside, was quoted as
saying, “This whole thing would not have occurred but for the presence of
this loaded Lorcin L380. That gun should never have been there.”

Lorcin Manufacturing filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in October 1996. The
company states that bankruptcy was a direct result of lawsuits by
governmental entities. Those lawsuits, according to former Lorcin President
Jim Waldorf, have been “beaten back.”

So now we have the ultimate in absurdity. A Lorcin 380 handgun that was
inoperable is responsible for the death of a 19-year-old because she
illegally procured the gun, sat in the car with it in her lap, and four
badly trained police officers killed her. The employer of the four former
police officers, the city of Riverside, alleges that Tyisha Miller would
still be alive if Lorcin Manufacturing had educated her in the proper and
correct way to use the illegal gun. The city of Riverside obviously
believes that it’s the gun manufacturer, not the criminal, stupid!

Who’s next on the list of manufacturers of dangerous products to be sued?
First, tobacco, and now firearms — is it only a matter of time before
cities start litigating against manufacturers of another “dangerous”
product: automobiles?

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