State judge throws out Bridgeport lawsuit against gun makers

Friday, December 10th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) -- A state judge on Friday dismissed the city of Bridgeport's lawsuit that sought to make gun makers responsible for the costs associated with gun violence.

Superior Court Judge Robert F. McWeeny agreed with gun makers who argued the city did not have legal standing to sue because the city had not suffered any direct injuries from guns.

"The plaintiffs have no statutory or common law basis to recoup their expenditures. They lack any statutory authorization to initiate such claims," McWeeny wrote.

Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim said the city would appeal. "We have a right, and the people have a right, to have this case heard by a jury," Ganim said. "This issue is not going away. The damages and the injuries that have been caused to the people of my city and cities across the nation are not going away."

Bridgeport was one of 29 cities and counties suing more than two dozen gun makers.

Carlton Chen, vice president and general counsel for West Hartford-based Colt's Manufacturing Co., said the decision should set a precedent.

"Our industry, at least in his court, has been completely vindicated," he said. "I think it certainly will be persuasive on the other judges. We're certainly optimistic in the status on other cases."

The suits have had mixed success in the courts. A judge dismissed Cincinnati's suit in October, but another judge allowed Atlanta's suit to proceed and ordered the industry to open its files.

Jim Dorr, a Chicago lawyer for gun makers Sturm, Ruger and Co. Inc. and Smith and Wesson Corp. said the Cincinnati and Bridgeport rulings bode well for the gun industry.

"Both of these opinions rely on established law in a very well-considered way," Dorr said. "We hope and expect that they will be considered in other states. We are very pleased."

Bridgeport's lawyers contend that the city has run up more than $100 million in gun violence costs, including police overtime, medical costs and revenues lost from depressed property values and an exodus of businesses.

It alleged that the gun makers violated product liability laws, the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act and public nuisance laws. The lawsuit also contended that gun makers have not done enough to make firearms safe and failed to prevent their products from getting into the hands of criminals.

A national lawsuit against gun manufacturers is being readied by the Clinton administration on behalf of the nation's 3,190 public housing authorities.

While filing of the lawsuit is not imminent, the White House hopes the threat of a suit in federal court will heighten pressure on gun manufacturers to negotiate with the states and cities that have sued already.