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Missouri - Senate Bill 13 Reckless Lawsuit Preemption

Sunday, August 17, 2003

S.B. 13 aims to put an end to reckless lawsuits that seek to blame responsible, law-abiding firearms manufacturers and sellers for the actions of criminals. Over thirty states have already enacted common-sense laws to stop these lawsuits, and the Missouri General Assembly, the representative voice of Missouri citizens, voted overwhelming to enact S.B. 13 (the House of Representatives by a vote of 118-41 and the Senate by a vote of 24-9). Governor Bob Holden, however, vetoed the legislation. His reasons for disapproving of S.B. 13 are without merit. (Read Governor Holden`s veto letter here.)

S.B. 13 Blocks Suits That Seek Gun Control Through the Courts Rather Than the General Assembly

Since October of 1998, America’s firearm industry has been targeted by an orchestrated series of politically motivated "junk" lawsuits filed by 34 municipalities, including St. Louis, and by special interest groups. These suits seek to destroy a responsible American industry by blaming law-abiding manufacturers and sellers of highly regulated, non-defective firearms for the actions of criminals.

These suits are also an attempt by anti-gun interest groups to improperly use the courts to impose a failed gun control agenda, thereby circumventing Congress and State Legislatures. A Florida appellate court in upholding the dismissal of Miami-Dade’s suit against the industry had this to say:

The judiciary is not empowered to "enact" regulatory measures in the guise of injunctive relief. The power to legislate belongs not to the judicial branch of government but to the legislative branch.
(Penelas v. Arms Technology, Inc., 778 So.2d 1042, 1045 (Fla. App. 3rd Dist. Feb 14, 2001).

More recently, a New York appellate court, in upholding the dismissal of New York State’s case against the industry, warned, "that courts are the least suited, least equipped, and thus the least appropriate branch of government to regulate and micro-manage the manufacturing, marketing, distribution and sale of handguns." People of The State of New York v. Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc., et al., 761 N.Y.S.2d 192, 199 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t June 24, 2003) (emphasis supplied). "[G]iving a green light to a common-law public nuisance cause of action today will, in our judgment, likely open the courthouse doors to a flood of limitless, similar theories of public nuisance, not only against these defendants, but also against a wide and varied array of other commercial and manufacturing enterprises and activities." Id. at 196-197.

Lawsuits Already Proven Baseless Around the Nation

Governor Holden expressed an unwarranted concern that St. Louis’ case against the industry would be prematurely terminated before a full examination of the facts. Several other cities that have sued the industry have had a full examination of the facts, and case after case has been either voluntarily dismissed or thrown out of court by a judge.

  • Last year the City of Boston, after almost three years of exhaustive litigation, document review and sworn testimony from company executives, voluntarily dismissed its product liability and public nuisance lawsuit against the industry. Boston acknowledged in court that members of the firearm industry are "genuinely concerned with and are committed to, the safe, legal and responsible sale and use of their products" (emphasis added).
  • In March of 2003, a California judge, based on a full factual record, granted summary judgment for the industry and dismissed suits filed by 12 California cities.
  • In April 2003, after several years of litigation, the Cincinnati City Council voted unanimously (8-0) to voluntarily drop its lawsuit and instead spend the money on police overtime.

The overwhelming majority of courts that have addressed these lawsuits have dismissed them, saying that they do not state a legitimate legal claim against the industry. In the unlikely event St. Louis’ case is permitted to proceed, the city will see the exact same documents and evidence that Boston, Cincinnati, and the 12 California cities have seen.

The Courthouse Doors Are Not Closed to Parties With Legitimate Claims

In vetoing S.B. 13, Governor Holden asserts incorrectly that the bill will stop legitimate lawsuits. That is simply not true. Firearm manufacturers and dealers can still be sued under traditional tort law claims, like products liability, breach of warranty, and breach of contract. Injured plaintiffs - with legitimate claims - will still be able to seek redress for their injuries in court against the parties responsible under the law. A firearm manufacturer or seller that has lawfully sold a legal, non-defective product is not responsible under the law for the criminal misuse of that firearm, any more than a brewery is responsible for drunk driving accidents.

Without this legislation, reckless lawsuits will destroy the American firearm industry, rendering Missourians’ Second Amendment rights useless.

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