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Friday, February 13, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - "New firearms bill: Job creator or lawsuit killer?"

Jill Disis reports today in the Indianapolis Star in a story that begins:

An Indiana lawmaker is touting his new firearms bill as a job creator that he says would make the state a haven for the $37 billion gun manufacturing industry.

Fifteen years ago, Gary stirred controversy when it sued gun makers and sellers, attempting to hold them accountable for the havoc that their products caused on that city's streets.

But critics say the bill's author, Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, is giving special favor to the gun industry with Senate Bill 98 and claim it reveals a troubling agenda — one that targets an active lawsuit with potentially wide-ranging effects on businesses that sell or manufacture guns which wind up in the hands of criminals.

Tomes says he's not hiding his intent. The bill suggests a few changes to the Indiana code that governs lawsuits against firearms manufacturers and sellers — changes that he says were specifically written to end Gary's lawsuit.

"It's been laying there like a beached whale, and it's starting to stink," Tomes said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday. "Anytime this (gun manufacturing) industry is moving from one state to another, they don't consider Indiana at all because of that lawsuit. We're talking about a jobs bill here."

The ILB has had many posts on the Gary litigation. This one from Jan. 19, 2009 quoted an excellent analysis piece by Jon Murray, then of the Indianapolis Star, headed "Move to let Gary gun-violence lawsuit proceed stirs debate: Some see landmark case; others call Gary suit unfounded." It began:
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. * * *

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.

Here is a long list of earlier ILB posts on the case.

More from today's story:

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who served as the state's attorney general under Gov. Frank O'Bannon, said Tomes has not contacted her about the bill. Freeman-Wilson also said she was "deeply concerned" about the apparent attempt by state lawmakers to target pending litigation.

"Because of some of their practices (in the firearms industry)," Freeman-Wilson said, "it certainly makes guns more readily available, and it makes the bloodshed in our streets, it places it in some part, at the seat of the gun manufacturers."

Guy Relford, a Carmel-based lawyer known for defending Second Amendment rights, said he supports the bill and does not think the legislature would be acting beyond its authority by passing it.

"It has been the law in Indiana for a long, long time that the General Assembly can, in the context of civil litigation, make a law retroactive if it so chooses," Relford said.

The bill passed its Wednesday committee hearing 7-1, sending it on the the full Senate. But even if it becomes law, it's not clear that new jobs and economic dollars would flow into Indiana.

Tomes declined to give specific examples of firearms manufacturers who might be interested in moving to Indiana * * *

Though Tomes acknowledged that the bill doesn't come with any certainty, he said it still gives Indiana a chance for new business.

"This is not guaranteeing we're going to get anything," Tomes said, "but by golly, it will guarantee that we're not locked up in a pen unable to compete."

The Feb. 13th version of the bill, SB 98, has the digest: "Prohibits a person from bringing or maintaining certain actions against a firearms manufacturer, ammunition manufacturer, trade association, or seller, and makes the prohibition retroactive."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 13, 2015 09:07 AM
Posted to Indiana Government