WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court (search) declined Monday to consider dismissing a lawsuit seeking to hold gun manufacturers responsible for the 1999 shooting of a letter carrier by a white supremacist.
Without comment, justices let stand a ruling of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) that reinstated a lawsuit against gun manufacturers and distributors. The companies' weapons were used by Buford Furrow (search) to kill Filipino-American Joseph Ileto (search) and wound five people at a Jewish day care center in a Los Angeles-area rampage.
The high court's move, which allows the lawsuit to proceed toward trial, is good news for gun-control groups who say increased liability will stop industry sales tactics that put weapons into the hands of criminals. Several cities nationwide have sought to sue gun manufacturers, but with little success.
Ileto's mother, Lillian, and families of the survivors contend that Georgia-based Glock Inc. (search), China North Industries Corp. (search), RSR Management Corp. (search) and RSR Wholesale Guns Seattle Inc. (search), should be held liable under California law because they knowingly facilitated and participated in an underground illegal gun market, according to the complaint.
A federal judge initially threw out the case, but a divided 9th Circuit panel reinstated the lawsuit in 2003. The panel said a since-repealed California statute immunizing gun manufacturers in product liability actions did not apply, because it did not address the plaintiffs' theories of negligent marketing and distribution.
The full 26-member 9th Circuit declined to rehear the case last May.
Christopher Renzulli, the attorney for Glock and the RSR companies, has said the gun Furrow used to kill Ileto was originally sold to the police department in Cosmopolis, Wash., by the RSR companies.
According to court records, the police department sold the weapon to a gun shop in exchange for a different model. The shop sold it to a gun collector who is alleged to have sold it to Furrow, an ex-convict prohibited from purchasing weapons, at a gun show in Spokane, Wash.
The appeal filed by China North Industries Corp. argued that the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit overstepped its authority in expanding potential liability for gun manufacturers, a role the company says should be reserved for legislatures.
In the original decision reinstating the case, Judge Richard Paez of the 9th Circuit wrote that Glock's marketing strategy creates a "supply of post-police guns that can be sold through unlicensed dealers without background checks to illegal buyers."
In urging their colleagues to rehear the case, dissenting Judge Consuelo Callahan wrote that courts should "be chary of adopting broad new theories of liability."
Congressional legislation barring lawsuits targeting the industry failed last spring.
The case is China North Industries Corp. v. Ileto, 04-423.