In a landmark ruling Monday, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the City of Gary’s lawsuit against gun manufacturers may proceed to trial. The Court refused to hear a challenge to the Indiana Court of Appeals’ October 2007 ruling rejecting gun industry claims that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act shields 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 Supreme Court refused the gun manufacturers’ petition to transfer the case, instead allowing the Court of Appeals ruling to stand. The Court of Appeals held on October 29, 2007, 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. The ruling by the Supreme Court today allows Gary, Indiana’s lawsuit against sixteen gun manufacturers and six northern Indiana gun dealers to proceed to trial. Lawyers from the Brady Center’s Legal Action Project represent the City of Gary in the case.
“The Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling is an important victory for the people of Gary and particularly those who have suffered from the gun industry’s supply of guns to criminals and gun traffickers,” said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Center and former Mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana. “When the gun industry violates the law and allows dangerous people easy access to illegal firearms, 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: “After years of delay caused by numerous rejected gun industry appeals, 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.”
This is the second ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court in this case. It unanimously ruled 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.”
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, 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.
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