Thursday, April 29, 1999

Cincinnati sues gun makers


Chesley to handle city's case

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The city of Cincinnati on Wednesday sued handgun manufacturers to re cover the costs of gun-related violence, joining a parade of U.S. cities targeting those who make and sell guns.

        The lawsuit was filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, hours after a 5-4 vote of city council authorized the city solicitor's office to spend $100,000 on the case and hire Cincinnati lawyer Stanley Chesley to be lead counsel.

        Mr. Chesley, one of the nation's premier product liability lawyers, is co-counsel in a similar lawsuit filed earlier this year by New Orleans. Council agreed to pay Mr. Chesley's law firm 20 percent of any monetary damages collected by the city if the suit is success ful. Lawyers for the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence in Washington will assist.

        “I am absolutely confident we can make this case,” Mr. Chesley said. “We can and will hold the manufacturers of these weapons responsible for the damage their products do.”

        The lawsuit names 16 gun makers and three trade associations. It does not ask for a specific dollar amount.

        City lawyers and administrators are trying to determine the amount of money handgun violence has cost the city in recent years in terms of unreimbursed medical costs of treating gunshot victims, costs of emergency serv ices, police protection, court costs and lost tax revenue to the city.

        Democrats Tyrone Yates, Todd Portune, Paul Booth, Minette Cooper and Mayor Roxanne Qualls authorized the lawsuit. Republicans Phil Heimlich, Jeanette Cissell and Charlie Winburn and Charterite Jim Tarbell opposed it.

        Ms. Qualls said Cincinnatians should understand that the city is not trying to abridge the rights of gun owners with the lawsuit, but is trying to make gun manufacturing and sales “more responsible.”

        “The manufacturers have to be held responsible for what they have created,” said Ms. Qualls, who introduced a motion in January asking city lawyers to investigate the possibility of a lawsuit. “And the remedies we are seeking are common-sense remedies,” she said.

        The suit alleges that handgun manufacturers, through their marketing and advertising, “massively distribute (guns) in a manner that makes them readily available for illegal use” in Cincinnati.

        The suit says the gun makers have had the ability to make guns safer. For example, the suit says manufacturers can make guns that only authorized users could fire.

        “Such self-locking devices would "personalize' guns and prevent firearm injuries and deaths that will continue to occur in Cincinnati when children and other unauthorized or unintended users gain access to guns,” the suit says.

        The city accuses the gun makers with deceiving the public about the safety of guns and promotes the “fallacy that the use of guns will increase home safety and security.”

        The lawsuit also accuses the manufacturers with promoting an illegal gun market, “which arms juveniles, convicted felons and other unauthorized or illegal users with lethal weapons.”

        The city wants the court to order the gun industry to eliminate or substantially reduce the illegal gun market, provide adequate warnings about the risks of handguns and fund studies and advertising campaigns focused on handgun safety.

        Mr. Tarbell said he thinks there is “no chance in the world” the city will succeed in its lawsuit.

        He pointed to the recent school shooting in Littleton, Colo., in which two students gunned down 12 classmates and one teacher. He pointed out that the students who did the shooting were not only armed with guns, but also with homemade pipe bombs.

        “What are we to do when kids are making pipe bombs at home?” Mr. Tarbell asked. “Sue the pipe manufacturers?”

        The city, Mr. Tarbell said, “has to pick its battles, and we have to pick battles that will succeed.”

        Mr. Chesley said Wednesday that while the school shootings in Colorado may have given the lawsuit some “impetus,” the planning for a possible suit against gun manufacturers “has been going on for months and years.”

        Officials of the American Shooting Sports Council, a trade organization named as a defendant, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In the past, the trade organization has argued that some safety features are already available to the public if individuals choose to buy them and that others are available in prototypes.

        The Cincinnati lawsuit follows a similar suit filed this month by Cleveland, naming gun manufacturers and trade associations.

        Chicago, Miami-Dade County, and Bridgeport, Conn., also are among the cities that have filed suits.

        In Cincinnati, proponents of the suit say the action is justified by the level of gun violence in the city over the past six years, including 107 gun-related homicides, 84 gun-related suicides and six gun-related accidents.

        Separate from the lawsuit, the city is weeks away from a plan to give 5,000 gun locks to Cincinnati gun owners over two years.

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