City of Atlanta Suing Gun Makers

Mayor Bill Campbell blames gun manufacturers for gun crimes.

GON Staff | February 1, 1999

In his annual “state-of-the-city” speech to the Atlanta City Council on Jan. 5, Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell announced the city’s intention to hold firearm manufacturers responsible for injuries and deaths caused by criminal gun use in a lawsuit to be filed sometime this year. Already, state lawmakers have taken steps to try to block the city’s effort. 

Ironically, the announcement was made three weeks before the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms’ industries largest trade association, comes to Atlanta with its annual “Shot Show” convention and trade show. The Shot Show takes place Feb. 1-4 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta and was expected to have a huge economic impact. Last year’s Shot Show in Las Vegas, Nevada brought 32,000 firearms industry delegates to the city who sunk $50 million into the local economy in four days. 

Mayor Campbell was unaware of the Shot Show when he made the announcement about Atlanta’s lawsuit.

Neither the mayor nor his media spokesperson returned GON’s phone calls, and details about the lawsuit have still not been released by the mayor’s office. It is not known what gun manufacturers will be named in the lawsuit, what damages will be sought or when the suit might be filed. It is assumed the lawsuit will be modeled after two other lawsuits filed by the cities of Chicago and New Orleans last year, which are seeking millions in damages from gun manufacturers to offset city expenses related to gun deaths. 

Campbell told the City Council that suing gun manufacturers for gun crimes was the same as suing tobacco companies for health problems. 

“Just as the tobacco companies were held responsible for the carnage and health-related issues, so it is that those who provide the guns for those that pull the triggers must be held accountable as well,” Campbell was quoted as saying in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

The NSSF, which has itself been named as a defendant in the New Orleans lawsuit, was surprised and disappointed by Campbell’s announcement, according to a press release. 

“Not surprisingly, we think it is illogical to sue a responsible manufacturer because a legitimate product made and marketed legally was used in the commission of a crime,” said NSSF President and CEO Bob Delfay. “While we will honor our contract with the Georgia World Congress Center and with our more than 1,400 exhibitors and hold our show in Atlanta as scheduled, Mayor Campbell has clearly made us feel less than welcome in his city.”

According to the NSSF press release, the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau had been trying to convince the Shot Show organizers to schedule three more Atlanta shows in the next decade. That now seems highly unlikely. The NSSF had been planning to take the Shot Show to New Orleans in 2000 and 2001, but cancelled those plans after New Orleans announed its lawsuit against gun makers. 

On Jan. 19, state Rep. Bob Irvin (R-Atlanta) announced his own plans to introduce a bill that would block Campbell’s move. Irvin said his bill would do three things: 1) prohibit city governments from filing product liability lawsuits unless city employees had been affected by the product in question; 2) require that lawyers be paid on an hourly rate plus expenses to prevent attorneys from extracting massive fees, as happened in recent tobacco lawsuits where attorneys earned more than $30 billion; 3) give any proceeds from such a lawsuit back to the taxpayers through tax rebates, rather than allowing the city government to keep the money. The last rule would make cities less likely to jump on the lawsuit bandwagon simply as a way of grabbing for cash. 

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