Court Throws Out Suit Against Gun-Makers
Mon Aug 11 01:56:39 2003

Court Throws Out Suit Against Gun-Makers

By AMY F. BAILEY Associated Press Writer

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Court of Appeals has thrown out lawsuits filed by the city of Detroit and Wayne County against more than 30 gun manufacturers and dealers.

In an unanimous decision released Friday, the appellate court said a state law approved in 2000 prohibits such lawsuits although the city and county filed their suits in April 1999.

The decision reverses a Wayne County judge's 2000 ruling to allow the suits to go forward.

Wayne County is unlikely to appeal the ruling, said Sharon Banks, a spokeswoman for County Executive Robert Ficano. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, a state lawmaker when the bill was approved, is considering whether to appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court, a spokesman Howard Hughey.

The law only permits the state's attorney general to sue gun manufacturers or dealers. Attorney General Mike Cox does not plan to take up the municipal suits, Cox spokesman Sage Eastman said.

Wayne County and the city of Detroit failed to show that the law was unconstitutional, Appeals Court judges Joel Hoekstra, Kurtis Wilder and Brian Zahra said in their decision.

"The statute at issue does not directly interfere with judicial decision making because it does not direct the judiciary either to make specific findings of fact or to apply relevant facts to the law in a particular way," the court said.

"Rather, (it) `specifies the law to be applied to the relevant cases and leaves to the courts the job of applying that law to the particular facts before them.'"

Wayne County's lawsuit sought $400 million in damages from 24 gun manufacturers and 12 gun dealers. The city has said it sought a similar amount. They argued gun manufacturers and dealers failed to stop gun sales where buyers act as front men for felons and juveniles.

State Rep. Sue Tabor, a Republican from Eaton County's Delta Township who sponsored the gun lawsuit bill, said the Appeals Court made the right decision.

"These lawsuits are absolutely ridiculous," she said. "We need to let these municipalities know that this is not the way that you fight crime."

Brian Siebel, a senior attorney for the pro-gun control Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, argued the case for the municipalities. He said the decision was based solely on the 2000 law and did not take into account that Wayne County videotaped gun dealers selling firearms to felons and underage buyers during sting operations.

"It's just unfortunate that the gun lobby can get the Legislature to enact a bill that immunizes an industry engaged in blatant wrongdoing," Siebel said.

Since 1998, at least 33 municipalities, counties and states have sued gun makers, with many claiming that the industry's practices have led to a proliferation of weapons among criminals.

The Detroit and Wayne County lawsuits are the fourth and fifth cases to be dismissed because of state statutes, said Lawrence G. Keane, vice president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the gun industry.

Earlier this year, the U.S. House approved legislation that would put a national ban on lawsuits against gun manufacturers and distributors seeking damages resulting from their product.


On the Net:

Legal Action Project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, http://www.gunlawsuits.org

National Shooting Sports Foundation, http://www.nssf.org/body.htm 

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