County Sues Gun Industry Over Damage From Firearms


Los Angeles County sued the firearms industry Friday, becoming the largest governmental entity to take to the courts in an effort to control gun violence--and possibly collect some hefty legal awards.

The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court follows similar litigation filed by Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, the city of Los Angeles and the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

The suit alleges that gun makers have designed, promoted and sold weapons in a reckless manner that led to accidental or intentional damage by youths and criminals.


Alleging that the county has borne the brunt of this violence through its public hospitals, courts and jails, the suit seeks to force manufacturers to better control sales and install safety mechanisms.

“The firearms industry must take responsibility for the public costs caused by gun violence,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said in a statement.

The county plans to work with the cities that have filed lawsuits against the industry, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.

“Everyone in these lawsuits is after the same thing: to hold the gun industry accountable,” he said. “We’re not so much interested in money and damages--though we are interested--as in addressing the negligence problem.”

Industry representatives could not be reached for comment. But in the past, they have said that the cities and counties are trying to make gun makers scapegoats for their own failure to capture and prosecute criminals. They also maintain that the suits improperly seek to use the courts to make changes that should be sought through legislation.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who voted against filing the suit, released a statement saying that the action “ignores the real reason for violence: Criminals are abusing a legal product designed for protection and security.”


The lawsuit alleges that the gun industry’s marketing has exaggerated the utility of firearms for security purposes and has targeted people who should not have guns. It also charges that the industry has failed to monitor dealers who sell guns on the street.

The lawsuit notes that Los Angeles County in 1997 saw 1,385 gun-related deaths and 2,336 hospitalizations for nonfatal injuries.

“The widespread availability and misuse of firearms by minors, convicted criminals and other unauthorized users is one of the most serious problems facing the nation,” the lawsuit states.

It relies on California’s business code and public nuisance law, the same law that Los Angeles and San Francisco used in successful litigation against the tobacco industry.

Naming 40 gun manufacturers and trade groups as defendants, the lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting what it alleges are gun makers’ negligent manufacturing and marketing practices, and seeking a civil penalty and a possible portion of the industry’s profits.

The county is not seeking reimbursement for the costs of treating gun injuries and prosecuting gun violence--yet. A county task force is still tallying those costs.


Times staff writer Myron Levin contributed to this story.