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New Jersey Appellate Ruling Allows Reckless Lawsuits To Proceed

Friday, March 14, 2003

On March 11, a New Jersey appeals court handed the gun-ban lobby a minor victory, when it determined the reckless lawsuits filed by the New Jersey cities of Camden, Jersey City, and Newark could proceed to trial. And while the gun-ban lobby, HCI, hailed the ruling as "a major legal defeat for the gun industry," attorneys representing the industry were relatively unimpressed. "We’re not quaking in our boots," Larry Keane told The Philadelphia Inquirer, "because at the end of the day, the cities will not be able to prove the allegations." Keane, Vice President and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc. (NSSF), went on to say, "We do not fear this litigation, because we know the allegations are not true." Timothy G. Atwood, another lawyer representing a member of the firearm industry, speculated the ruling merely indicated the judges’ political inclinations. "How else does one explain that identical theories have been advanced in 30 cases [nationwide]," he asked the Inquirer, "but in the most liberal states, courts view exactly the same allegation and take a more activist view?" Many rulings have sided against the gun-ban lobby and its flagrant abuse of the judicial process, including all where a final ruling has been handed down.

And although these predatory lawsuits often fail, their true goal of saddling law-abiding gun makers with the ever-increasing financial burden of having to defend themselves in court is having some success. The true goal, after all, is to drive gun makers into bankruptcy, which is why the gun-ban lobby’s strategy is to file as many cases as possible, in as many areas as possible. The more cases filed, the more money law-abiding gun makers must spend defending themselves, even if the charges are ridiculous. And the wider HCI casts its net of reckless litigation, the more likely it will find venues with either judges or juries that are sympathetic to its anti-gun agenda, and thus prolong the financially draining process of mounting a defense. Brian Seibel, an HCI trial lawyer, even implied as much to the Inquirer when he commented about the New Jersey ruling, hailing the fact that there will be "three different cases with three different juries."

All of HCI’s bluster over the New Jersey ruling comes on the heels of an embarrassing loss in California last week (see last week’s Grassroots Alert), which explains the attempt to distract its supporters and the media with the canard that the New Jersey ruling was somehow significant. In California, a judge rejected 12 cases against gun makers in one fell swoop. The fact that the 12 cases filed by separate municipalities (with HCI’s assistance) had all been combined into one was likely frustrating to the gun-ban lobby, as it meant less financial burden to gun makers. But even more devastating is the fact that the dismissal came after all of the evidence had been presented by the anti-gun extremists—including the affidavit by the firearms industry "insider" HCI hailed as an "explosive declaration" that represented a "watershed event" in the reckless lawsuit campaign. The New Jersey cases, on the other hand, had yet to begin the discovery phase of the trial, where evidence is actually presented.

The idea that some reckless lawsuits may be prolonged by activist judges is all the more reason for the passage of H.R. 1036, the reckless lawsuit preemption legislation currently pending in Congress. Unless these kinds of cases are prohibited by Congress, the law-abiding firearm industry runs the risk of suffering the proverbial "death of a thousand cuts." While each individual case by itself may represent only a minimal threat, multiple reckless suits could be destructive. Even some lawmakers who may not support NRA’s pro-gun views support putting an end to the reckless lawsuit agenda. U.S. Representative Artur Davis (Ala.-D), whom The Birmingham News describes as "no friend to the [NRA]," told the paper he felt H.R. 1036 is "a legitimate effort to rein in some of these lawsuits." Matt Nosanchuk, the litigation director for the Violence Policy Center—a relatively obscure extremist organization that advocates banning all handguns—posed to The Birmingham News the exceptionally ridiculous questions, "If these cases are so frivolous, why are they so afraid to let them go forward? If they’re so confident of their position, why do they go to the legislatures and to Congress to shut them down?" Perhaps if Matt had to defend himself against dozens of suits that had no basis or merit he’d understand.

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