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Victims of Fatal San Frasisco Shooting Can Sue Manufacturer

By William Claiborne
The Washington Post
LOS ANGELES

A California state court ruled Monday that the families of the victims of a 1993 fatal shooting rampage in a San Francisco law office can sue the manufacturer of the assault-style pistol used in the incident for selling a weapon designed for mass killing.

A verdict against the manufacturer would be the first ruling anywhere to hold the maker of an assault-style weapon liable for the criminal use of its product.

Eight people were killed and six others wounded on July 1, 1993, when Gian Luigi Ferri walked into the law firm, removed two TEC-DC9 assault pistols from a briefcase and sprayed the offices with rapid fire before killing himself. Ferri was reported to have had a grudge against lawyers.

The incident helped spur passage of a nationwide ban on some assault weapons that was included in last year's omnibus crime bill.

Superior Court Judge James Warren ruled that the Washington-based Center to Prevent Handgun Violence can bring to trial the lawsuit that it filed last May 18 against the makers of the TEC-DC9 on behalf of the victims and their families. The center's chairwoman is Sarah Brady, whose husband, former White House press secretary James S. Brady, was wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt against then-President Ronald Reagan.

Lawsuits were filed by the center against Intratec of Miami, maker of the TEC-DC9; U.S.A. Magazines of Downey, Calif., maker of the pistols' ammunition magazines; and Hell-Fire Systems Inc., a Colorado firm that made and sold a trigger adapter designed to make a semi-automatic weapon fire at a rate approaching that of a fully automatic machine gun. The center also sued a Las Vegas pawn shop where Ferri purchased one of the pistols.

Hell-Fire Systems has declared bankruptcy and, therefore, is automatically removed from the proceedings. Warren conditionally removed U.S.A. Magazines from the lawsuit but gave the center time to amend its complaint to tie the company more closely to the TEC-DC9 weapon.

Dennis Henigan, director of the center's Legal Action Project, called Warren's ruling "a great victory for gun victims."

He said "the ruling establishes a whole new principle of accountability for the gun industry," and said gun-makers will have to be concerned whether their products are "attractive to criminals" and whether they can be used as instruments of mass destruction.