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Monday, January 19, 2009

Ind. Decisions - "Gary as the last plaintiff standing among more than 30 cities and states that have sued the gun industry over the past decade"

Updating the ILB entries from Jan. 12 (here and here), Jon Murray of the Indianapolis Star today has an excellent analysis piece, headed "Move to let Gary gun-violence lawsuit proceed stirs debate: Some see landmark case; others call Gary suit unfounded." Some quotes:

One by one, local governments have filed lawsuits that try to hold firearms manufacturers responsible for gun violence on city streets.

And, one by one, the lawsuits have either been dismissed by courts or dropped. Until last week.

In what gun control advocates quickly hailed as a landmark decision, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled last week that a lawsuit filed by the city of Gary can proceed toward trial.

That leaves Gary as the last plaintiff standing among more than 30 cities and states that have sued the gun industry over the past decade -- and at the epicenter of a contentious debate.

Gary, a city of 96,000 with one of the nation's highest homicide rates, filed its lawsuit in 1999. It argues that gun manufacturers -- including Smith & Wesson, Beretta and Colt -- and several gun dealers are liable for gun violence because they readily supply handguns they know will reach criminals, juveniles and others forbidden from buying them, and cast a "willful blindness" toward a lucrative illegal trade. * * *

Most states -- including Indiana, in 2001 -- have passed laws that protect gun manufacturers from such liability, thwarting future suits. In addition, Congress passed a law in 2005 that also shields the gun industry from liability suits. * * *

Brian J. Siebel, an attorney with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence's Legal Action Project and part of the legal team representing Gary, said the city will prove its case.

"The case was filed 10 years ago," Siebel said. "The nuisance is ongoing. There is a continued flow of illegal guns into the city."

Eleven of 16 original gun-makers and distributors remain in Gary's lawsuit; others have gone out of business or been purchased. At least two of six gun-dealer defendants have reached settlements over the years.

And one Lake County judge assigned to the case retired, while another died.

Many lawsuits backed by cities or states since New Orleans filed the first in 1998 have been dismissed by state and federal courts, often because of state laws providing immunity for the gun industry.

Still more failed after Congress' passage in 2005 of the federal shield law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals made an important ruling in October 2007. The court, in a 3-0 decision, said that Gary's case could proceed, despite the federal shield law. The reason: Gary's public nuisance claims fell under an exception because it alleged violations of state laws applying to the sale and marketing of firearms.

The gun-makers appealed, but last week, the Indiana Supreme Court in effect rejected that appeal by declining to review the case. * * *

Still, there is the possibility that the Gary case will never go to trial. The gun-makers could petition for a U.S. Supreme Court review of the Indiana court rulings. Lawrence Greenwald, a Baltimore attorney representing Beretta, said no decision has been made.

Also, officials in New York, as well as crime victims in the Washington, D.C., case -- though not D.C. public officials -- have appeal petitions before the Supreme Court.

But retired Indiana University law school professor Henry Karlson said the chances of any of the three cases winning Supreme Court review are slight.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 19, 2009 08:41 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions