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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK

World: Americas

Gunmaker can be sued over shooting

There are an estimated 200m privately-held guns in the US

The US firearms industry could face massive legal payouts after an appeals court became the first to allow a gunmaker to be sued for a criminal shooting.

America and the Gun
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  • Recent legislation
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  • The court on Wednesday reinstated a civil suit against Navegar Inc., the maker of two TEC-DC9 semi-automatic pistols used by a gunman to kill eight people in a San Francisco office building in 1993`.

    The judges acknowledged that no other appeals court had ever ruled that manufacturers of legal, non-defective guns can be sued and held liable for the criminal misuse of the weapons.

    But the court said the San Francisco case was unusual. The gun's firepower, the lack of any apparent legitimate civilian use and Navegar Inc.'s company's marketing practices could lead a jury to conclude that they should have foreseen that it would be used in a massacre.

    A TEC-DC9 was used in the April shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

    Weapon of choice

    [ image: A TEC-DC9 was used in the Columbine High School massacre]
    A TEC-DC9 was used in the Columbine High School massacre
    However, the ruling stopped well short of authorising suits by any gun victim against a manufacturer - claims dismissed by every other state and federal appeals court to have considered them.

    The 1st District Court of Appeal said federal statistics showed the TEC-DC9 was the "weapon of choice" for certain types of criminals. Navegar's former marketing director was quoted as saying in 1992 that sales went up when the gun was used in a notorious crime.

    One company advert claimed that the gun's surface was resistant to fingerprints, while a brochure said the gun was "as tough as your toughest customer".

    Navegar "had substantial reason to foresee that many of those to whom it made the TEC-DC9 available would criminally misuse it to kill and injure others," said Justice J. Anthony Kline.

    Major implications

    In July 1993 Gian Luigi Ferri, a mentally ill man with a grudge against lawyers, used the gun to kill eight and wound six other people in a San Franscico law office. He then killed himself.

    But Justice Paul Haerle accused his colleagues of "judicial legislation" and said Mr Ferri bore sole responsibility for the shootings.

    But according to the Centre to Prevent Handgun Violence, in Washington DC, the case still has "far-reaching implications" for lawsuits by local governments accusing gunmakers of negligently designing, manufacturing and distributing their products.

    More than 25 such suits have been filed across the United States.

    Navegar is expected to appeal to the California Supreme Court.

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