Wednesday, December 08, 1999

U.S. to enter firearm lawsuits

Could give boost to cities' actions

The Washington Post

        WASHINGTON — The Clinton administration plans for the first time to intervene in litigation against the gun industry, a move to pressure manufacturers to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and to reduce accidental shootings, officials said Tuesday.

        The decision could dramatically strengthen the hand of numerous cities — including Cincinnati — that have sued or threatened to sue firearms manufacturers, seeking redress for the public costs of gun violence.

        Federal officials will begin pressing the manufacturers to settle those lawsuits by making a variety of concessions, such as preventing “straw purchasers” from buying large quantities of firearms — a popular method for felons to obtain new guns.

        If the gun makers don't agree, the administration says it is ready with a powerful weapon similar to one it is using against the tobacco industry: a massive lawsuit on behalf of the nation's 3,191 public housing authorities and their 3.25 million residents.

        “If we cannot come up with a satisfactory resolution” through negotiations, “HUD would bring a class action suit on behalf of public housing authorities,” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday.

        Stanley Chesley, the attorney handling Cincinnati's lawsuit against gun manufacturers, said Tuesday night that the administration's intervention “is a step in the right direction. I think it makes a considerable difference, especially in the strength of the lawsuits.”

        On Oct. 7, Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman threw out the city's case. Mr. Chesley is appealing the ruling.

        William A. Weathers of the Enquirer contributed to this report.

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