Indiana Supreme Court Allows Gary Gun Lawsuit to Proceed to Trial

thumb_weapon_gun_smith_and_wesson_hand_ejectorIn a very rare win for a city against a gun manufacturer, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that a lawsuit by the City of Gary can proceed to trial. These lawsuits have been uniformly rejected on various grounds, including standing. Yet, Gary with one of the nation’s highest homicide rates will be allowed to sue companies like Smith and Wesson, Beretta and Colt as well as gun dealers for the harm caused by their products. They are proceeding on a nuisance theory.

Gary is a city of 96,000 and filed the action in 1999. Similar lawsuits have been dismissed in Illinois, New York, and Washington. Moreover, recently, the Rhode Island Supreme Court tossed out a massive nuisance claim against lead paint manufacturers.

The one big factor favoring Gary at this point is that nuisance is an area of traditional state law and this decision is based squarely on Indiana law. This does not necessarily insulate the decision from Supreme Court review and, as we have seen in punitive damage cases, it could theoretically reverse the decision. However, state cases of this kind have the lowest vulnerability. Nevertheless, the use of nuisance against a product manufacture in this type of case is enormously controversial. It would circumvent product liability rules, including statutes of limitation. It would circumvent the legislative process that has allowed these products to be sold despite their use in crime. Finally, with the recent decision holding that the second amendment does create an individual right to bear arms, it is a decision that places tort on a collision course with a constitutional right (though the city can argue that other constitutional rights, when used unwisely or recklessly, can be nuisances).

This is clearly a case to watch. And for all of those gun control advocates celebrating this week, here is the lyrics of the song of the day:

Gary, Indiana!
What a wonderful name,
Named for Elbert Gary of judiciary fame.
Gary, Indiana, as a Shakespeare would say,
Trips along softly on the tongue this way–
Gary, Indiana, Gary Indiana, Gary, Indiana,
Let me say it once again.
Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana,
That’s the town that “knew me when.”
If you’d like to have a logical explanation
How I happened on this elegant syncopation,
I will say without a moment of hesitation
There is just one place
That can light my face.
Gary, Indiana,
Gary Indiana,
Not Louisiana, Paris, France, New York, or Rome, but–
Gary, Indiana,
Gary, Indiana,
Gary Indiana,
My home sweet home.

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18 thoughts on “Indiana Supreme Court Allows Gary Gun Lawsuit to Proceed to Trial”

  1. Prohibition did not work in the 1920’s and 30’s. People still got alcohol. Today the goverment can not keep crack, marijuana or other drugs off our streets. In both cases posession of the substance was illegal. That did not stop people from getting it. Did it?

    Criminals do not go to there local police or sheriff station pay between $35 and $125 for a little pice of paper that says that they now have the right to carry a handgun. They buy it from joe on the street. probaly the same joe that sells them crack. Law abbiding citizens are the ones who follow the law and do things according to it.

    Laws do not affect criminals. Never have never will.

  2. Meso….you said…

    “As you know, the firearms manufacturers for years having been making small, easily concealable, cheap handguns whose only possible purpose was for use in criminal activities. They were useless for hunting or target shooting due to their size and inaccuracy”

    Useless for hunting?? Really? I know lots that hunt with compact weapons pretty successfully.

    Useless for target shooting because they’re inaccurate??? Really…With subcompact firearms folks are hitting targets from 50 to 80 yards away. My wife can create 2 inch groupings at 7 and 15 yards with her inaccurate nontarget shooting gun! Criminals will get the guns regardless of the lawsuits or gun control laws period. Take a look at the UK…since their ban on handguns crimes with firearms has increased significantly as has Australia’s crime. Same held true during D.C.’s ban.

    These kinds of lawsuits are unconstitutional and should be thrown out every time!

  3. rafflaw:

    Indeed my uncle was a foreman at the Gary Steel Works. I recall blocks of shuttered businesses. I think a perfectly operating self-defense tool would be standard issue.

  4. Mespo,
    You may be red-faced, but are you armed with your personal defense tool?? From my personal experience of having to go through or around Gary on many occasions, they need all the help they can get to control the crime there. It is one tough town.

  5. blaster:

    BTW you should know that half of what you said is correct. After supplying the criminals with guns, it only stands to reason that the gun manufacturers would gladly supply the victims. Sort of fueling an arms race by supplying both sides. As Professor David Kairys of Temple University puts it: “After supplying gang-bangers and crooks, the industry “turns around to the rest of us … saying, ‘You need a gun to protect yourself from the guns we’ve sold to these other people who are a threat to you.” Masterful marketing, terrible yet all too common neo-con ethics.

  6. blaster:

    I had no idea that you have better information than the attorneys representing the cities in these cases. Even more surprising you are able to be at every gun shop at the same time to survey their customers. I suggest a new name for you then–Santa Claus.

  7. Re: blaster’s bluster,

    People like you foul-up the debate atmosphere for thinking gun owners and those who would prevent the lawful ownership of handguns. You definitely do not help the cause of handgun ownership.

    I often disagree with many of the regular commenters, including mespo, regarding gun ownership issues and your words are antithetical to my arguments.

    I have no problem calling Mr. Bush an imbecile and/or a moron because his actions fit. However, no one here—through his or her comments relating to handguns—has reached the imbecilic or moronic level yet, but you are getting very close.

  8. Mespo you are truly an underforming moron: The firearms manufacturers for years having been making small, easily concealable, cheap handguns FOR PERSONAL DEFENSE.

    Maybe you should go to a gun shop and check around who is buying them because they are college kids, mothers, wives, and hundreds of thousands of every day people.

    You see imbecile, people like a small light easily carried handgun for personal defense.

  9. When you carry a gun you have in your hands (or on your hip), the ability to end any mans life. This is a massive responsibility, second only to that of raising children.

    Many people are uncomfortable with that responsiblity. They believe that they can’t be trusted with it, and by extension, neither can anyone else. They fall back on saying “the police” or “the government” should take care of that. Someone with special training, and the blessings of the state should be responsible, but not me, or you, or anyone else.

    The more law abiding citizens that are armed, the less sure criminals can be of the outcome of their actions against us.

  10. Buddha:

    I agree. The justification is what led to many laws against “Head Shops” in the 1970-80’s because though their products weren’t illegal, the facilitated illegal drug use.

  11. I have to agree that a tool, with rare exceptions, is ethically neutral. Those most apparent exceptions being biological, chemical and radiological weapons. I don’t think I have to spell out what side of the ethical coin those tools land on. I cannot think of a tool that has a positive ethical bias – maybe medical prosthesis – but ANY tool can be misused. The difference is that some tools have no function regardless of application that is not evil. It is the application of a tool that has value, either positive or negative. Application requires human intervention. That being said, handguns have one design function, ONE, and that is to kill people. But that genie is way too out of the bottle to put back. When a tool is dangerous but widely available the best a society can do is regulate the manufacture/distribution and criminalize the intentional misuse of said tools.

    Unfortunately for us as a species, it’s difficult to “un-invent”.

  12. FFLeo:

    I think we need to flesh out the facts for the suit to make some sense of it. As you know, the firearms manufacturers for years having been making small, easily concealable, cheap handguns whose only possible purpose was for use in criminal activities. They were useless for hunting or target shooting due to their size and inaccuracy. These guns were marketed to rural and solo gun dealers with every foreseeability that criminals would be a substantial part of this Saturday Night Special market. Large cities who suffered most of the costs associated with this gun violence took action and sued manufacturers after notifying them of the proliferation of these products into the hands of criminals. The Cities also took action against rogue gun dealers who refused to comply with federal gun sales laws setting up many successful sting operations which proved guns were being sold to anyone including felons, and the mentally unstable, using “straw man” purchases. Manufacturers, realizing large profits from these cheap-to-produce weapons, did little to stem the tide. Hence the lawsuits. The Cities are not saying the criminals aren’t responsible for their actions, they are saying the gun manufacturers are ALSO responsible in negligence for creating a condition which makes the criminals’ actions easier to accomplish. In essence the claim is that the manufacturers know about this problem and refuse to take any steps to alleviate this public nuisance. You may disagree with the philosophy of this kind of suit, but it is legally cognizable, hence the rush to bail out the manufacturers with legislation to immunize them from the law. As a consequence everyone agrees that gun violence will be more prolific than it otherwise would be without the legislation.

  13. Smith and Wesson should sue the City of Gary for allowing such lax enforcement of the law to continue that their products are becoming synonymous with murder instead of self protection and hunting.

  14. I strongly disagree with the premise of the lawsuit and I agree with what Sally stated.

  15. So when can we start suing car companies when people get in car acciedents? After all, Ford made that F250 really big and Kia
    made that little compact car….well, really compact!

    When can we start suing beer companies when we get to drunk and decide to drive? If Budweiser had not made such a good beer, then people wouldn’t drink so much until they get drunk.

    It’s the people who misuse guns that should be sued. Guns are not intended for crimes. There is nothing wrong with owning guns. Criminals will always get guns, they will always have access to them. To allow such lawsuits, seems to punish those that actually obey the laws.

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