Chicago Judge Rules
Gunmakers, Dealers NOT
Responsible For Gun Violence
By Jon E. Dougherty
© 2000
The gun industry has won a legal battle in Chicago after a circuit court judge upheld a motion to dismiss the case charging gun makers and retailers with negligence and creating a public nuisance.
The Chicago Tribune reported Friday that Cook County Circuit Judge Stephen A. Schiller upheld the motion filed by gun manufacturers and retailers to dismiss the lawsuit on grounds that neither makers nor sellers could be held responsible for the acts of armed criminals.
Lawyers for gun makers were happy with the decision but were reminded that the case is far from over. City and county officials -- including Chicago Mayor Richard Daley -- have vowed to appeal Schiller's ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
"I anticipate a good result in the appellate court," Chicago Corporation attorney Mara Georges told the newspaper. "Perhaps we were stunned a little, but we are going to come out swinging again."
The decision "was more or less what I hoped for," said James Valentino, a lawyer for Universal Firearms, Ltd., a company that owns one of the Chicago-area gun stores named in the city's lawsuit. "But we must understand this case is not over."
On Feb. 10, Schiller threw out an important element of the city's suit, which accused gun makers and dealers of being negligent. From the bench, Schiller ruled that there was no basis in law for the city's claim of "negligent entrustment," meaning that the gun industry is responsible for gun violence.
Negligent entrustment suits claim, in part, that a person negligently "entrusts" something to someone else, "such as a car to a drunken person or, in the city's argument, guns to suspected criminals," said the Tribune.
In the same court ruling, however, Schiller said he would reserve judgment on the city's claim that guns have created a public nuisance.
Chicago is one of over 30 cities and municipalities that have filed lawsuits seeking damages from gun makers and gun-store owners and retailers. Chicago is suing for $433 million.
After Schiller's February ruling, the city withdrew its suit and then re-filed it March 27 with some amendments, including newly obtained crime figures provided to Chicago by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The new data allegedly showed that the gun industry knew "for years" that a small group of gun sellers and retailers in the Chicago area supplies most of the city's criminals with guns, the paper said.
The newest suit was filled with gun and crime statistics, but Schiller's ruling Friday appeared to indicate that the city's basic case -- that gun makers are responsible for individual acts of criminals using guns -- was still weak.
Nevertheless, Daley vowed to press ahead with the suit to a higher court.
"We need the same authority to take away the licenses of gun dealers as we do for liquor establishments," he told reporters at the headquarters building for the Chicago Police Department.
Also Friday, Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine said the county would join the city in its appeal.
Gun rights groups say yesterday's Chicago ruling is becoming the norm, and are not worried that the spate of class-action suits against the industry is going to be successful in the long run.
"It's a house of cards and it's all coming down," said John Velleco, a spokesman for < Gun Owners of America. "The suits are not built on anything."
Velleco said three other gun industry suits have also been thrown out, including an action filed by the city of Miami.
"This is not something that's even coming as a surprise to the supporters of the gun suits," he said. "Even groups like Handgun Control have recently said the suits are likely to fail, so they're going to go after individuals instead."

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