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Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: Gun Manufacturers Lose Appeal Of Gary, Indiana's Lawsuit: Decision Is First Appellate Court Ruling To Interpret Federal Gun Industry Shield Law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OCTOBER 29, 2007
4:00 PM

CONTACT: Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
(202) 289-7319

 
Gun Manufacturers Lose Appeal Of Gary, Indiana's Lawsuit:
Decision Is First Appellate Court Ruling to Interpret Federal Gun Industry Shield Law
 

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - October 29 - In a landmark ruling with nationwide implications, the Indiana Court of Appeals today ruled that the City of Gary’s lawsuit against gun manufacturers may proceed to trial.  The 3-0 Court ruling held that the 2005 federal “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act” does not shield the gun industry from liability for irresponsible sales practices that funnel guns to the criminal market.

In a major setback to the gun industry, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act” does not shield gun manufacturers from liability for sales practices that knowingly violate Indiana’s public nuisance statute.  It allows Gary, Indiana’s lawsuit against sixteen gun manufacturers and six northern Indiana gun dealers to proceed to trial.  Trial is set to begin in 2009.  Lawyers from the Brady Center’s Legal Action Project represent the City of Gary as co-counsel in the case.

“This ruling is an important victory for the people of Gary and the rest of Indiana who have suffered from the distribution of guns to criminals and gun traffickers because of the practices of the gun industry,” said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Center and former Mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana.  “When the gun industry injures the public, it should be held accountable.”

Brian J. Siebel, Senior Attorney with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and co-counsel representing the City of Gary, stated: “The citizens of Gary may finally have their day in court and help put an end to the unlawful practices of gun makers that funnel guns into the criminal market.”

Cases pending in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and other states have raised similar challenges to the law, but this is the first appellate court in the nation to rule on the scope of the federal gun industry shield law.  This is the fourth case brought by the Brady Center in which courts have ruled that the suits can proceed despite the 2005 legal shield law.  For example, in December 2005, a federal judge in New York allowed New York City’s similar lawsuit against the gun industry to proceed.

Gary’s case began with a sting conducted by Gary police of northern Indiana gun dealers that, between them, supplied more than 60 percent of the crime guns recovered in the city.  The dealers’ sales to undercover officers posing as “straw purchasers” was captured on videotape before the suit was filed in 1999, and confirmed the dealers’ gross misconduct in supplying the underground market.  Gary also sued the major gun manufacturers who sold handguns through these dealerships and profited from the diversion of guns to criminals.   

The Court ruling today cited the Indiana Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Gary v. Smith & Wesson Corp. in December 2003 that the City stated valid claims alleging “that the Manufacturers knowingly participated in a distribution system that unnecessarily and sometimes even intentionally provided guns to criminals, juveniles, and others who may not lawfully purchase them.” 

After President George W. Bush signed the gun industry-backed shield law in October 2005, the gun manufacturer defendants in the Gary case moved to dismiss the case.   In October 2006, Lake County Superior Court Judge Robert A. Pete declared the legal shield law unconstitutional.  The court today did not address whether the law is unconstitutional because it ruled that the law does not apply to the City’s case.

Tony Walker and Lukas Cohen, of the Walker Law Group in Indiana, and Robert S. Peck of the Center for Constitutional Litigation, serve as co-counsel with the Brady Center in the case.

As the nation's largest national, non-partisan, grassroots organizations leading the fight to prevent gun violence, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is dedicated to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in their communities.

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