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WASHINGTON (AP) - Seven gun makers and an industry group are suing the federal government and others over a plan to give purchasing preference to the only gun manufacturer that signed an agreement to design safer guns.
The lawsuit by the manufacturers and National Shooting Sports Foundation is against the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, 16 communities and the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut.
HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo called the lawsuit frivolous and defended the effort to give preference to Smith & Wesson when purchasing firearms for law enforcement officials.
"After the Smith & Wesson agreement, there are two types of gun manufacturers: safe and unsafe," Cuomo said in a statement. "Working with law enforcement, we prefer to do business with the safe manufacturers."
The lawsuit filed in an Atlanta federal court Wednesday alleges an illegal conspiracy in restraint of trade.
In March, President Clinton announced a landmark gun safety agreement with Smith & Wesson that included the installation of gun locks on all the weapons it sells, the introduction within three years of "smart gun" technology, and barring sales of its weapons at gun shows without a background check.
Under the agreement, Smith & Wesson was to be dropped from lawsuits against gun makers that were being contemplated by federal officials and some cities. Any other gun maker that agreed to the plan would also be given preferential treatment, but so far none has joined Smith & Wesson.
"We are demanding cities stop the effort of using their purchasing power to control the distribution and design of firearms," said Jeff Reh, general counsel for Beretta U.S.A. Corp, one of the seven suing companies.
The lawsuit names as defendants New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who helped draw up the agreement.
"This action is preposterous, false and unfounded and an insult to law enforcement," Blumenthal said. "It is plainly an effort to deceive and confuse the public, and distract law enforcement officials from the work of improving gun safety and stopping crime."
Also named were the California communities of San Francisco, Berkeley, East Palo Alto, Inglewood, Oakland, and San Mateo; as well as Bridgeport, Conn.; Atlanta; Miami-Dade County, Fla.; Gary, Ind.; Boston; Detroit; St. Louis; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia; and the District of Columbia.
Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim called the lawsuit, "a desperate move by the gun makers to try and prevent us from doing what is the right thing to do."
"They continue to forget that our only goal is to protect children and families, and their only goal is to protect corporate profits and greed," Ganim said.
But Robert Delfay, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said 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."
Reaction to the lawsuit from Capitol Hill was swift and partisan.
"I am disappointed that some gun manufacturers have chosen confrontation over cooperation," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. "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."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the Clinton administration overstepped its authority.
"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-abiding firearm manufacturers," Hatch said.
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