California and New York Draw a Bead on Guns

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Though Congress may have ducked the issue earlier this summer, the ricocheting political bullets emanating from the Littleton massacre have landed with full force on both coasts. In California on Monday, Governor Gray Davis signed into law the nation’s most sweeping state ban on the manufacture, sale and importation of semiautomatic rifles and pistols. And in New York on Wednesday, news leaked out that state attorney general Eliot Spitzer was not only contemplating filing the first state lawsuit against gun makers — in a parallel assault to the one already mounted by 23 cities and counties across the nation — but was also deep in negotiations with two manufacturers. The goal of the negotiations, revealed in a New York Times article: to get the gun makers to agree to a series of marketing restrictions and controls that would help keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

The two moves could spell danger for the gun industry and its supporters. "The California legislation represents a major swing in public opinion in the wake of Littleton from a region of the country, the West, which has traditionally loved guns," says TIME Los Angeles bureau chief Cathy Booth. What’s more, she reports, further gun control legislation is headed to the governor’s desk. Seven more bills are in the pipeline, including measures that would require trigger safety locks, restrict cheap handguns and impose limits on the sale of guns from homes. Meanwhile, “the threatened New York State lawsuit could entice other states to do the same thing and open the floodgates of litigation,” says TIME senior writer Adam Cohen. “It could start a scenario similar to what has happened to the tobacco industry.” The apparent New York negotiations “put the ball in the gun manufacturers’ court for now,” says Cohen. The next few weeks will tell whether the industry will choose to fight or deal.