Gun Manufacturers Sue Government for Violating Free Trade

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - A group of seven gun makers turned tables on the government Wednesday, filing suit against the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut; and officials from 14 municipalities.

The lawsuit accuses them of conspiring to violate free trade by imposing nationwide manufacturing standards on the gun industry and by favoring Smith & Wesson with contracts to purchase police weapons.

Smith & Wesson, under pressure from lawsuits filed against the gun industry, recently signed a deal with the federal government, agreeing to abide by a host of new regulations and sales restrictions. In return, the federal government dropped its threat of legal action against Smith & Wesson.

In their lawsuit, filed in federal court in Atlanta, the seven gun makers (excluding Smith & Wesson) said the federal, state, and local "conspiracy" to impose nationwide manufacturing standards is unconstitutional. Only Congress has the power to regulate interstate or international commerce, they argue.

The gun makers have asked the court to forbid the defendants from setting any new national regulations -- on the design, manufacture, advertising, or distribution of handguns -- that are not authorized by Congress.

"We vigorously object to the suggestion that any manufacturer which does not subscribe to the ill-founded demands of these public officials is not making the safest possible firearms," said Robert Delfay, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which joined the following gun manufacturers in the lawsuit: Beretta, Browning Arms, Colt, Glock, SIG Arms, Sturm,Ruger & Co., and Taurus International.

HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo and New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, both named in the lawsuit, called it "frivolous." Cuomo and Spitzer are among those who want to use government purchasing power as a "stick" to force gun makers to submit to government demands.

In their lawsuit, the gun makers say the preferential treatment extended to Smith & Wesson (which agreed to government demands) constitutes restraint of trade.

"These local officials have tried everything from litigation to economic extortion to compel compliance on a national level with their own individual ideas about gun design, ownership and distribution," said Delfay of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

On Capitol Hill, some Democrats faulted the gun makers for intransigence, while Republicans agreed that the government has overstepped its bounds in trying to force regulations on gun makers through litigation, not legislation.

"I am disappointed that some gun manufacturers have chosen confrontation over cooperation,'' said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey). "The federal government isn't asking for much, only that these companies help adopt common sense measures to keep guns from ending up in the wrong hands."

In fact, the gun makers argue that the federal government is asking a lot of the industry, as the agreement with Smith & Wesson makes clear.

Among other things, that 60-point agreement Smith & Wesson signed mandates child-safety trigger locks and the development of "smart gun" technology. It also includes marketing changes that affect gun dealers at the retail level. And perhaps most controversial, the agreement provides for the creation of an outside "oversight commission" made up of local, state and federal officials, who would supervise Smith & Wesson's business practices.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he thinks the Clinton administration has overstepped its authority in regard to the gun industry.

"From the allegations of the complaint filed today ... it now appears the administration seeks to further its goals by circumventing the will of Congress and illegitimately bringing the weight of the executive branch to bear on law-biding firearm manufacturers," Hatch said.

"We'll see 'em in court," said White House spokesman Jake Siewert of the gun manufacturers.

Thirty cities and counties have sued gun makers to recover the costs of gun-related violence, and President Clinton has said the federal government might also sue, if gun makers don't take steps to manufacturer "safer" weapons.