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Cryo Chamber

Illegal Guns and Liability

Minors still get alcohol and tobacco even though it is illegal to sell to them. Criminals will obtain guns even if sales are cut off to law-abiding citizens. How on earth is a dealer supposed to determine if they are selling a gun to “the wrong kind of person”? I guess I am unfamiliar with this “iron pipeline” or the “traffickers” the article refers to. Are there organized buyers who know they are reselling guns to criminals?

September 22, 2003

Illegal Guns and Liability

It’s puzzling: a society that figured out that it could not stem the use of alcohol and tobacco by minors without punishing the people who profit from those sales still has not done much to keep the wrong people from owning guns. Now Congress is poised to take a step back from that goal.

Usually, weapons used in urban crimes are purchased far away. The sniper killings in the Washington, D.C., area were traced to a gun sold in Tacoma, Wash. Guns that end up in Chicago often start out in Indiana and points south. In New York, a study showed that some 85 percent of guns used in crimes came from Florida, Georgia and other states.

The so-called iron pipelines are kept flowing when gun makers supply dealers who sell to traffickers or those who front for them. While responsible business practices seem a reasonable requirement, the federal government is close to all but eliminating liability for the gun industry in deaths and injuries. If that happens, it would render moot some of more than two dozen lawsuits by municipalities and victims that are still pending.

Last month three California cities won as five dealers, including two from Georgia and Ohio, promised in a settlement to change how they sell guns in the state. But in many other cases, the industry has prevailed.

Without help from Washington, local lawmakers are taking action. The New York City Council, which saw one of its members killed with an out-of-state gun, is weighing two bills. One offered by Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz of Manhattan makes suing the gun industry easier for shooting victims and their families. It may be too far-reaching, possibly leaving even suppliers of police weapons vulnerable. A better bet is the bill from Councilman David Yassky of Brooklyn, which seeks to compel manufacturers and dealers to adhere to a code of conduct. Both are pressing for similar state legislation.

Local law, however, can be trumped by Congress, where the House handily voted to give immunity to gun makers and distributors in almost all cases. If that bill passes in the Senate, where a majority backs it, the question of who’s to blame for the spread of illegal guns may find another answer.

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