Jury Takes A Shot At Gun Makers

In what could be a landmark case, a federal jury Thursday found several gun makers responsible for negligent marketing practices in connection with three shootings.

The Brooklyn jury's mixed verdict also cleared a number of other gun manufacturers.

The only damages awarded were to the sole survivor of the shootings, 19 year-old Steven Fox, who was seriously injured. The jurors ruled that $4 million in damages were caused by the gun makers, but awarded Fox a little over half a million, reports CBS News Correspondent Diana Olick.

Fox and the relatives of six homicide victims sued 25 gun makers in federal court in 1995. The class-action lawsuit sought unspecified damages from an industry that generates sales of up to $3 billion a year.

The jury found that 15 of the 25 gun makers, including Beretta USA Corp., Colt's Manufacturing Co. and Jennings Firearms, Inc., distribute their products negligently. Among the companies cleared were Smith & Wesson Corp. and Sturm, Ruger and Co.

Like some of the lawsuits brought against tobacco companies, this case accused gun makers of negligently marketing a legal product. The case was closely watched by several cities trying to recover the costs of gun violence.

Afterward, both sides claimed victory.

"I thank God, we absolutely won," said lead plaintiff Freddie Hamilton, a Brooklyn woman whose son, was slain in 1993. She predicted the verdict would bring a "whole new phase" of litigation against the firearms industry.

But industry lawyer James Dorr called the result "a defense verdict in all respects."

The defense also filed a motion for mistrial. U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein said he would not rule without written arguments.

During the month-long trial, the plaintiffs argued that handgun makers oversupply gun-friendly markets, mainly in the South, aware that the excess guns flow into criminal hands via illegal markets in New York and other states with stricter anti-gun laws.

They accused the defendants of dumping handguns onto the black market like "toxic waste," and making no effort to identify and discipline dishonest distributors.

In a deposition read to the jury, Robert Morris, head of Tauras International Manufacturing, Inc., conceded the company had "never cut off anybody, cut them off for sloppy distribution practices."

Lawyers for Tauras, Smith & Wesson Corp., Colt's Manufacturing Co., Sturm, Ruger and Co. and other gun makers insisted their responsibility ends once they sell their product to licensed distributors.

They said the job of policing traffickers should be left to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which has never required them to track their products to the street.

The verdict came despite apparent disagreement in the jury room.

In recent days, jurors had sent Judge Weinstein several notes saying it was deadlocked over whether negligent marketing b the defendants was a factor in the seven New York shootings.

One note said that 10 jurors had "decided to work together to reach a verdict," but the 11th "refused because he or she feels the verdict 'will open the floodgate of lawsuits across the country.'"

Legal experts say the case could set a precedent for cities trying to recoup the costs of combating gun violence.

Chicago, New Orleans, Bridgeport, Conn. and Miami-Dade County are suing the gun industry. Pro-gun groups have responded by lobbying state legislatures to pass laws prohibiting such suits.