Gun Manufacturers Take a Direct Hit

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"Gun lobby lawyers must be having a pretty stressful day today," says TIME writer Adam Cohen. Late Thursday, a New York federal jury took aim at the gun industry and hit a bull's-eye. In a complicated decision, the jury found eight manufacturers liable for several shootings committed with illegally obtained guns in the New York area. The reason for the jury decision: It found that the companies' marketing and distribution practices were negligent, fostering the illegal smuggling of guns from states where gun control laws are lax into states such as New York where gun control laws are strict. If upheld on appeal, says Cohen, "this case has the potential to open the floodgates of gun liability lawsuits."

Why ? "Because the verdict says to anyone in the country who has been injured by a gun: You may have a claim," says Cohen. The prospect is chilling for the gun lobby. It is one thing to fight gun laws in a controlled setting like the Congress of the United States, or even in an individual state legislature -- as the gun lobby did successfully earlier this week in Georgia. It is quite another to try to stamp out costly lawsuits by an endless stream of claimants in all 50 states. "Manufacturers now need to come up with a solution," says Cohen. One possibility, he says, "may be to try to work out with Congress or the states a tobacco-like deal in which manufacturers agree to alter their practices in exchange for a release from liability." Anti-gun activists have long used "Guns Kill" as their slogan. The New York verdict now gives those activists new -- and more potent -- ammunition to lob against gun manufacturers: Guns cost.