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Gun dealers and manufacturers earned a major victory Wednesday when a federal advisory jury refused to hold them liable for the trade in illegal guns that are used in violent crimes against urban blacks. Eastern District of New York Senior Judge Jack B. Weinstein is now expected to issue a ruling within 30 days that lawyers for both sides expect will embrace the jury’s verdict. The panel of 12 jurors issued a finding of no liability for 45 of the defendants and was unable to reach a verdict for the remaining 23 manufacturers or gun dealers — an indication, plaintiff’s lawyer Elisa Barnes said, that a minimum of two jurors voted for liability. Rarely used, an advisory jury does not render a legally binding verdict, but is used by a judge to help render a decision. “This is a case that should have been dismissed,” said James P. Dorr of Chicago-based Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon, one of about 20 firms that represented the dealers and gun makers. “This is a complete defeat for the anti-gun zealots,” said Lawrence G. Keane, vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The plaintiffs, led by Barnes, an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), had sought to prove that the negligence or willful ignorance of the gun industry resulted in a flood of illegal weapons on the streets of U.S. cities, where a disproportionate number of young blacks die from gun violence every year. The plaintiffs’ goal was an injunction that would impose several restrictions on the industry, including a provision that would stop sales to uninsured dealers at gun shows and limit the number of guns a person can purchase to one per month. Barnes had successfully prosecuted a similar case in 1999 before Judge Weinstein in which one of the lead plaintiffs was a young man who had been shot in the head with an illegal gun during a street crime. But that suit, Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, 62 F Supp. 2d 802 EDNY (1999), was ultimately dismissed by the New York Court of Appeals, which, after receiving the case on certification from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, reversed the verdict. Barnes said following Wednesday’s verdict that it was “conceptually, a very difficult case to win.” “It’s very hard to understand. There are a lot of statistics and there was no victim to relate to,” she said. “There was also the general relationship between overall sales and crime guns.” Another hurdle, Barnes acknowledged, was the difficulty of asking a jury to hold the industry responsible where “the government itself doesn’t regulate them.” “Some clearly got it,” she said. “I guess it has to be a much more concrete case.” A different result in the case, one that found the gun industry had created a public nuisance through the unchecked sale of weapons, may have been rendered moot by legislation moving through Congress that would, in effect, immunize the gun industry from liability for illegal handguns. Representatives of the gun industry argued after the trial that it was up to Congress to decide the issue, and not a jury. The jury had reported to Judge Weinstein on Friday that it was deadlocked, but the judge told them a unanimous verdict was not necessary, and urged them to continue deliberations. Both Barnes and the defense wanted the case, which involved a request for an injunction, but no damages, to be heard by Judge Weinstein and not a jury. Keane criticized the judge after the verdict, calling the use of an advisory jury “an attempt to give the case a veneer of credibility.”

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