Colwell: A fatal shot at gun lawsuits Jack Colwell 

Gun Rights

The bill passed by the Indiana General Assembly to prohibit cities from suing the gun industry is retroactive to Aug. 27, 1999.

That’s three days before Gary, a city suffering so much for so long from gun violence, sued key players in the gun industry, manufacturers and dealers, for “negligent conduct that contributes to the criminal gun market.”

The bill, designed to end Gary’s decades-long effort through litigation to stop the free flow of guns to gangs by straw buyers — buyers obtaining weapons for gangs and for others with criminal intent — was sure to pass in Indiana’s legislature.

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In the prior session, the legislators did away with requirements for gun permits and honored Wayne LaPierre for his over three decades of leading the National Rifle Association.

Alas, as the bill to end the Gary lawsuit was moving through the legislature, the honored LaPierre was found liable for violating statutory obligations in NRA leadership. He resigned under fire.

Jurors concluded that LaPierre caused roughly $5.4 million worth of harm for the financially-troubled NRA. He was accused of lavish spending for private flights and personal lifestyle and approving $135 million in NRA contracts in exchange for use of a yacht and free trips to the Bahamas, Greece and other vacation sites.

Even as NRA membership declines and polls show support of Republicans as well as Democrats and of gun owners in general for some gun-abuse restrictions that LaPierre crusaded against as evil, Republican supermajorities in Senate and House united in support of ending the Gary lawsuit.

The passage of prohibiting cities, counties or any other local governmental units from bringing or maintaining lawsuits against the gun industry, came just as a judge was ordering a discovery process to require defendants to provide documents that could spotlight illicit transfer of firearms.

The bill, signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb, gives the power that was taken away from local government solely to Indiana’s attorney general.

Attorney General Todd Rokita supported the bill and made clear he has no intention to pursuing what Gary was attempting.

Although the Gary suit had survived many efforts to dismiss it, chances of ultimate success weren’t bright even before the legislative action to block it. Similar suits brought by other cities around the nation back at the same time all have been dismissed.

Still, some supporters of the bill said that the Gary lawsuit just remaining alive could cause the firearms industry to look critically at Indiana. Oh, no! Could they get mad and stop selling so many guns that go to gangs in Indiana and Chicago?

When the suit was filed, it was based on evidence obtained in an investigation of how easy it was for straw buyers to purchase guns and ammunition from certain licensed gun dealers. Investigators found they could buy even when intentionally acting suspicious or even when suggesting the purchase was for somebody else.

Westforth Sports in Gary was cited in the suit, and that gun dealer long has been alleged by Chicago police to be the source of hundreds of guns recovered after use in violent crime by gang members and others.

The store closed last year. The Chicago Tribune celebrated with an editorial headlined, “Rest in infamy, Westforth Sports gun store. We’re glad to see you go.”

The editorial cited a deposition by the store’s owner obtained by nonprofit news ProPublica, in which the owner described an “unbelievably shoddy ‘system’ for determining who could buy guns at his loathsome store.”

Maybe there could have been other depositions about shoddy systems in letting guns get into the wrong hands if the Gary suit wasn’t killed. There will be attempts yet in court to save it. But the Indiana General Assembly appears to have fired a fatal shot.

Jack Colwell is a columnist for The Tribune. Write to him in care of The Tribune or by email at jcolwell@comcast.net.

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