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November 19, 2004
Common Sense From An Uncommon Source

In a surprising development, the Illinois Supreme Court has smacked down an attempt to use the tort system to put gun manufacturers out of business. In an unanimous ruling, the seven justices told lawyers that gun manufacturers have no responsibility for the crime committed by others with their products:

The Illinois Supreme Court threw out two lawsuits accusing gunmakers of knowingly letting weapons fall into the hands of gang members and other criminals, in a ruling Thursday that the manufacturers cannot legally be blamed for street violence. ...

"The mere fact that defendants' conduct in their plants, offices and stores puts guns into the stream of commerce does not state a claim for public nuisance," the court said. "It is the presence and use of the guns within the city of Chicago that constitutes the alleged nuisance."

The city sought $433 million, the amount it claims it paid in law enforcement and emergency medical treatment for gun violence over four years. The families were seeking unspecified damages.

The court heard two appeals on the same subject and ruled in favor of common sense unanimously in both. In another sign that some courts understand the Constitutional separation of powers, five of the seven justices wrote an opinion urging the state legislature to regulate gun sales and ownership more carefully. While I disagree with the thrust of their argument, the fact that they passed up the opportunity to simply legislate their wishes from the bench and deferred to the legislature instead demonstrates an understanding of the proper role of the judiciary.

Since this is a state court, the precedent this sets is probably limited in scope. However, the trial lawyers who look to get rich off of weapons manufacturers the same as they did from the tobacco industry will surely appeal this decision to the federal courts. Perhaps common sense will also prevail in that venue.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 19, 2004 6:19 AM

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