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Friday, February 12, 1999 Published at 06:51 GMT

World: Americas

Landmark ruling rocks gunmakers

The right to bear arms is enshrined in the US Constitution

A federal jury in New York has found several gun manufacturers liable for the deaths of two people shot with illegally obtained weapons.

The BBC's Brian Barron: "Verdict will embolden the anti-gun lobby across America"
Damages of nearly $4m were awarded to 19-year-old Steven Fox - the only survivor of the shootings. The manufacturers were cleared in the cases of four other people who were shot dead.

BBC New York Correspondent Jane Hughes says the landmark decision will strike a chill in the heart of America's gun industry, as it is expected to pave the way for many more legal cases.

Jane Hughes: This was being seen by many as a test case
Like some of the lawsuits brought against the tobacco industry, this one accused the gun industry of negligently marketing a legal product.

The action related to shootings carried out in New York City in 1993 and 1994.

The jury found 15 of the 25 gun makers which were sued - including Beretta and Colt - distribute their product negligently. Smith and Wesson was among those cleared.

After several days of deliberations the jury accepted the argument that manufacturers are responsible in some cases for allowing guns to pass into the hands of criminals.

The plaintiffs argued that the companies knowingly over-supplied dealers in states with lax gun laws in the knowledge that the excess weapons would make their way onto the black market in states with tough gun laws.

The manufacturers countered that they were not responsible for what happened to guns after they had been passed to distributors.

Defence lawyer John Renzulli said: "There's definitely no rhyme or reason to this jury's verdict. It makes no sense."

Manufacturers 'responsible'

Although the jury rejected the claims on behalf of four of the people who died, they decided that manufacturers were responsible for two deaths and for the injuries suffered by Steven Fox.

He was shot in the head and still has a bullet lodged in his brain.

[ image: Steven Fox: A bullet remains lodged in his head]
Steven Fox: A bullet remains lodged in his head
He was awarded compensation for his suffering and for future loss of income.

The verdict was being closely watched by several American cities which are bringing similar cases against the industry.

They are hoping to win substantial compensation for the costs of treating victims of gun violence.

Miami, Bridgeport, New Orleans and Chicago have all filed multi-million dollar law suits against gun manufacturers. Officials in Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Francisco are planning similar lawsuits.

Gun manufacturers say they are not responsible for what consumers do with their products. The tobacco companies used a similar argument when individual states sued them for the costs of treating smoking-related diseases.

Those law suits resulted in a $206bn settlement against the industry last year.

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