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Who's To Blame for Gun Violence?
Issue Debated at Law School Conference
March 13, 2000

In Michigan, a six-year-old fatally shoots a first-grade classmate. In Pennsylvania, three are dead and two are critically wounded after a man goes on a shooting rampage.

As incidents like these become distressingly common, people are left wondering who is to blame for gun violence. Across the country, many people have pointed to gun manufacturers and dealers as part of the problem.

On March 3, lawyers, professors and authors on both sides of the issue squared off at "Guns and Liability in America," the Spring 2000 Connecticut Law Review Wiggin & Dana Symposium at the School of Law.

Cities' lawsuits against the gun industry aren't the answer to violence in society and aren't legally supportable, said Anne Giddings Kimball, Smith & Wesson's attorney and one of half-a-dozen panelists during the day-long symposium. In nearly 30 lawsuits, cities such as Bridgeport, Conn., New Orleans and Chicago seek to hold the gun industry accountable for street crime.

"These complaints are ill-conceived from every angle," Kimball said. Just as car makers can't stop someone from driving under the influence of alcohol, gun manufacturers can't be held responsible for someone's use of a gun.

"These lawsuits may be well intended, however they are a simple approach to a complex societal problem," Kimball said.

According to Robert Simpson, Bridgeport's attorney in its lawsuit against the gun industry, the municipalities' suits are an attempt to prevent further unnecessary violence. In the absence of consumer safety regulations governing firearms, cities are filing lawsuits in an effort to get the gun industry to claim responsibility for the damage done by their products.

In perhaps the most contentious remarks of the day, John Lott Jr. said the cities' lawsuits are responsible for lost lives, arguing that the lawsuits have raised the price of guns, making them too expensive for some who might have used them in their own defense.

"I think these suits have all been responsible for some deaths," said Lott, senior research scholar at Yale Law School and author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws.

Although bad things happen with guns, they also prevent bad things from happening, Lott argued. In 1997, Americans used guns defensively more often than they used them to commit violent attacks, he said.

"If somebody's confronted by a criminal and the police can't be there, ... statistics show that having a gun is the safest course of action."

Allison Thompson