The Behrend beacon. (Erie, Pa.) 1998-current, October 08, 1998, Image 8

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    Page 8- The Behrend College Beacon - Thursday, October 8, 1998
Gun-Maker Beretta battles suit
by parents of slain boy
By Sean Somerville
The Baltimore Sun
A hit more than four years ago,
Michael Soe, 14, replaced the loaded
magazine in his father’s Beretta 92
Compact L handgun with an empty
one and pointed the gun at his friend,
Kenzo Dix, 15.
As Kenzo fired a pellet gun at birds
out of Michael’s bedroom window
in Berkeley, Calif., Michael pulled
the trigger, expecting to hear a click.
Instead, he heard an explosion that
would reverberate more than 3,000
miles to Beretta USA’s headquarters
in Accokeek, Md.
Kenzo Dix died, the victim of an
undetected bullet in the gun’s firing
chamber, bn day, a month atter what
would have been Kenzo’s 20th birth
day, an Oakland, Calif., court will
begin deciding, in what could be a
landmark case, whether Beretta
bears any responsibility for the
In their suit against Beretta,
Kenzo’s parents, Lynn and Griffin
Dix, maintain that the gun should
have been designed to prevent use
by unintended users such as children.
Lynn Dix said the suit is an attempt
to make something good come out
of their tragedy.
“When something like this hap
pens, the bullet doesn’t stop,” said
Kenzo’s mother. “It just keeps go
Beretta USA, the U.S. subsidiary
of the Italian company, says the fault
lies with the Soe family, not the gun,
which has a device that warns users
of a bullet in the chamber.
“There’s no gun that can’t be
locked,” said Jeff Reh, general coun
sel for Beretta USA.
Reh said Michael Soe’s father had
left the gun unlocked and loaded, and
that Michael knew he should not
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point the gun, disengage its safety
or touch the trigger.
“He knew how to pull back on the
slide of the pistol and check to make
sure that the chamber was un
loaded,” Reh said. “He knew all
these things and did not do them. His
carelessness and that of his father led
to the death of Kenzo Dix, not the
design of the pistol.”
When something like this
happens, the bullet
doesn’t stop. It just keeps
Dix vs. Beretta could help shape
the way guns are designed and se
cured. The case, which Beretta un
successfully tried twice to get dis
missed, may mark the first jury trial
to test gun manufacturers’ account
ability for failing to “child-proof’
guns, said Dennis Henigan, legal di
rector of the Center to Prevent Hand
gun Violence in Washington, D.C.
The trial comes as some states are
moving toward requiring handguns
to be child-proofed or “personalized”
so that they can be fired only by the
intended user. Such legislation has
been introduced in New York, New
Jersey and Pennsylvania. Just last
week, Maryland Gov. Parris N.
Glendening became the first gover
nor in the nation to endorse legisla
tion that would ban the sale of all
but so-called “smart” weapons.
“This is an important case,” said
David Kairys, a Temple University
law professor who has served as an
adviser to officials in Philadelphia,
which is considering its own lawsuit
against gun manufacturers.
“It’s hard to figure exactly which
Shooting victim's mother
Volunteer JUST one hour a week with our
Adopt-A-School Tutoring Program.
children develop
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case or what issue is going to move
things ahead,” Kairys said. “But
there’s no doubt that courts, legisla
tures and the population generally is
moving toward understanding re
sponsibility of gun manufacturers as
being a lot like that of tobacco or as
bestos manufacturers.”
At the time Kenzo Dix was killed,
the Center to Prevent Handgun Vio
lence was searching for a case to test
the notion that gun makers have a
responsibility to design guns to pro
tect against unintended use.
Previous “product liability” law
suits against the industry, which
mainly cited the use of handguns in
crimes as evidence of their defective
ness, mostly failed, Henigan said.
Now the idea was to equate the re
sponsibilities of gun manufacturers
to those of car makers. The reason
ing: Just as automakers had to install
air bags and seat belts to make cars
safer, gun makers would have to use
locks, magnets, computer chips or
other technology to make firearms
The center said a person dies ev
ery day on average because some
one fails to recognize that a bullet is
present in a gun’s chamber. “We just
saw enormous potential to save
lives,” Henigan said.
At the same time, the Dixes were
trying to make sure that their son’s
life had a purpose. “I was thinking
that it can’t end here,” said Lynn Dix.
She contacted Henigan’s organi
zation to volunteer her efforts.
Henigan liked her case. California’s
“product liability” standard, which
calls for courts to weigh the risks of
a product’s design against its ben
efits, was favorable.
In their April 1995 lawsuit filed in
Superior Court in Alameda County,
the Dixes argued that Beretta’s warn
ing device an “extractor” on the
handgun barrel that raises slightly at
one end if a bullet is in the chamber
-- is too subtle for children.
“Beretta could easily have de
signed its handgun so that this
‘chamber-loaded indicator’ did warn
unintended users like Michael Soe
of a round in the chamber,” Henigan
said. “For example, Beretta could
have inscribed a warning on the side
of the gun.”
Beretta, the suit said, was negli
gent in “failing to design the gun so
that it could not be fired by a fore
seeable, unauthorized user like
Michael Soe.”
The suit also named the youth’s
parents as defendants for allowing
him access to the gun. The parents
settled those claims tor $lOO,OOO,
and Michael Soe was convicted of
involuntary manslaughter.
The Dix family, which is seeking
unspecified punitive and compensa
tory damages, has received no settle
ment offers, and no talks are planned,
Henigan said.
Beretta said it did not have a duty
to make its semiautomatic pistol safe
for unintended adolescent users. The
company argued in court documents
that the gun is “flawlessly con
structed, legally sold only to adults
and comes with the warning: ‘Store
firearms and ammunition separately,
beyond the reach of children.’ ”
“It defies public policy, logic and
common sense to hold a distributor
of handguns liable for damages that
result when an adult imprudently
provides an adolescent unsupervised
access to a loaded firearm and the
adolescent thereafter uses the firearm
in the commission of a felony,” the
company said in court records.
A judge denied Beretta’s motion
for dismissal in May - a decision up
held by ah appeals court in August -
- clearing the way for trial.
Poll shows Americans believe
in value of ethnic diversity
By Sam Fulwood 111 and Kenneth R.
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON Americans be
lieve strongly in the value of ethnic
diversity in the United States, but
feel the nation is becoming more di
vided along racial lines than less, a
new study released Tuesday shows.
The study conducted by the DYG
Inc., a New York polling firm, for
the Ford Foundation avoids any
mention of affirmative action, a hot
button term that tends to draw strong
negative reactions. Instead, research
ers asked voters to disclose their feel
ings concerning the broader and less
sensitive topic of diversity on col
lege campuses.
Seventy-one percent of respon
dents say, for example, that college
students should learn more about
other ethnic groups as a way of
bringing the nation closer together.
However, three in five questioned
say they believe that the nation is
growing apart rather than together.
Among selected poll findings:
-91 percent agreed that “our soci
ety is multicultural and the more we
know about each other, the better we
get along.”
-75 percent said a diverse student
body on campus has a positive ef
fect on the education of students,
compared to 18 percent who said it
has a negative effect.
-69 percent said courses and cam
pus activities that emphasize diver
sity and diverse perspectives have
more of a positive effect on the edu
cation of students, compared to 22
percent who said it has more of nega
tive effect.
“Despite the heated public debate
over diversity, Americans are clear
in their views,” said Alison R.
Bernstein, a vice president of the
foundation, whose Campus Diver
sity Initiative sponsored the poll.
“They support diversity in higher
education. They recognize that diver
sity is important to student success
and they believe that diversity edu
cation can help bring the country to
Daniel Yankelovich, chairman of
DYG Inc., said the study took pains
to avoid using the emotion-laden
term of affirmative action because it
would have skewed the findings.
“Affirmative action is the code word
for a set of practices that are seen as
zero-sum, where somebody wins and
somebody loses,” he said. “Diversity
isn’t seen that way. Diversity is seen
as everyone wins, as advancing the
goals that everyone embraces.”
University of Michigan President
Lee C. Bollinger said it would be
wrong to assume that a majority of
Americans favor anti-affirmative ac
tion programs like Proposition 209 -
- approved by California voters in
1996 - that outlawed all state sup
port for programs based on race.
“Many people thought a poll like
this would come out very differ
ently,” he said. “This is great news
because it’s counter intuitive. We
may have misled ourselves about
what people really think.”
William H. Gray 111, president and
chief executive of The College Fund/
United Negro College Fund, agreed
that “Americans may be way ahead
of the political leaders, social lead
ers and economic leaders in under
standing this change.”
In the poll, 52 percent of voters
said that multicultural courses such
as women’s studies or African-
American studies raise academic
standards on campus, while only 16
percent believe it lowered such stan
dards. Twenty-one percent thought
it did neither.
But the results also showed that 59
percent of those interviewed agreed
with the statement: “Diversity edu
cation always seems to have a lib
eral political agenda.”