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Class Action Filed Against Handgun Manufacturers

On June 24, 2003, several families of victims of gun crimes (possession of a weapon) filed a class action suit against seven firearms manufacturers to recover damages as a result of their family members deaths. The concept behind this lawsuit was that the manufacturers of these handgun had created a situation in which it was too easy for a subject to obtain a handgun and use it to assault another person. The court is forced to evaluate who is responsible for illegally possessed handguns. The complaint states that these illegally obtained handguns are a public nuisance because they endanger the health and safety of most of the population. The contention that was made in this complaint was that the manufacturers of these handguns are knowledgeable of the fact that their product is used to commit crimes and that they have chosen to contribute to these crimes by continuing to manufacture, distribute and market handguns to people who they know are likely to use them in an unlawful manner. The complaint maintains that the manufacturers of these handguns are aware that certain types of guns and certain areas where guns are sold, are disproportionately responsible for a large number of crimes in which handguns are used. The complainants seek an order directing the manufacturers of firearms to stop making them in New York state and to stop selling them in New York state which will stop the nuisance that they have created.

A New York Criminal Lawyer said the court evaluated the complaint in the light that it would be improper to penalize one person for the actions of another. Handguns are not the only legally manufactured and sold item that can be used illegally in the hands of a person who intends to commit an illegal act. With that contention, the manufacturers of kitchen knives, hunting knives, hatchets, or machetes could also be forced to stop manufacturing their products because some people use them to perform illegal and violent crimes. The court finds it improper to hold a person who is conducting themselves in accordance with the laws of the State of New York responsible for the actions that a third party. If a person is going to break the law, they will find a tool to use.

A good example of this type of logic is found in a particular well-known motorcycle gang. A Long Island Criminal Lawyer said their weapon of choice for most of their crimes is a claw hammer. Should companies that make claw hammers stop producing them? Is the government in a position to limit the types of people who are allowed to purchase a claw hammer?

In the case at hand, the complainants have lost loved ones to violent crime and violent criminals. It is important to resist the urge to blame the tool rather than the person who intended to use the tool to break the law. The tool is only a tool until the person who welds it with intent either commits good or evil with it. It is the intent of the person that needs to be controlled, not the tool itself. Any tool will do for a person with evil intent. If the government begins regulating what type of person is allowed to purchase handguns, it is not dealing with the actual problem at hand. The problem is the human being who intends to commit an unlawful act. If handguns are not available to that person, they can use just about anything else. It is not reasonable to hold the manufacturer of a legal tool responsible for the illegal intent of a person that they do not even know.

The court determined that the complainants would have to provide more specifics if they expected the court to consider a cause of action for common-law public nuisance. A general complaint that some people intend to misuse the product is not sufficient to cause the court to regulate an already heavily regulated legal enterprise. If the court were to grant this motion to file suit, there would be an overwhelming number of lawsuits for any number of other legal and commercially produced objects that someone may have used to create a public nuisance. The courts would be flooded with frivolous complaints on any number of products that could be used to cause harm to a person. Is the manufacturer of a saw responsible if a person misuses the saw and accidently cuts off one of his fingers? Most people would agree that the saw manufacturer cannot be held responsible for the negligent actions of the person who put his hand into the saw blade with a wanton disregard for the results of this action. How then can the manufacturer of a firearm be held responsible for the wanton disregard that some people use when they handle a firearm?

The courts maintain that a person or commercial entity cannot be guilty of a public nuisance unless they have committed the act themselves. If a person is engaged in a lawful function in a lawful activity, they cannot in good judgment be charged with being a public nuisance. The complainants state in response that they are not alleging that all manufacture of firearms are a public nuisance, only that the design, manufacturing, marketing, and some distribution practices create the circumstances that contribute to the public nuisance of illegal guns. The court admits that some legal enterprises that are regulated by statute and monitored by the state have been held to have contributed to public nuisances because of the manner in which the operate their businesses. They contend that the in those cases, the subject of the lawsuit was in actual control of the manner in which their consumers utilized their product to cause public harm.

If it were possible to show that the product was manufactured in such a way that the design caused a direct injury in the case of the handguns sold, then the complainant might have the necessary elements to request a cause of action. In this case, there is no direct injury that is the result of legal use of firearm. The firearm only becomes a public nuisance when it is used illegally. Further, the source that the complainants used to bolster their theory of sales in certain areas being related to an increase in crime is a flawed theory. The source that was used was the BATF report on gun traces that stated that certain areas are related to illegal gun activity. It does not indicate any illegal activity by licensed dealers. If a dealer is not legally licensed, then refusing to sell a handgun in that area, will not affect them. The purchaser will continue to purchase from the illegal dealer. There are already laws in effect to deal with the illegal actions of people who sell handguns in an illegal fashion. It would not be appropriate to hold the person who manufacturers firearms responsible for the recklessness of a person who purchases the product. If that were the case then all of the hairdryers that have accidently been dropped into bathtubs would open up hairdryer manufacturers to the same type of lawsuit. The case was dismissed.

At Stephen Bilkis & Associates, New York gun crime attorneys can review the circumstances of your firearm complaints. Whether you have been charged with a gun crime, sex crimes, or drug possession, we are here to help. We have convenient offices throughout New York and the Metropolitan area. A New York criminal lawyer can evaluate your case and provide advice for an appropriate defense.

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