The Illinois Supreme Court threw out two lawsuits accusing gunmakers of knowingly letting weapons fall into the hands of gang members and other criminals, ruling Thursday that the manufacturers cannot legally be blamed for street violence.
Both rulings were unanimous, but five of the seven justices were so disturbed by allegations raised in the case that they wrote a separate opinion urging the Legislature to create tougher gun regulations.
The lawsuits, filed by the city of Chicago and victims of shootings, claimed the defendants created a public nuisance by pouring guns into the Chicago area that are used to kill.
“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.
Earlier liability suits failed
Similar lawsuits had been filed around the country. An earlier wave of product-liability lawsuits — alleging that guns are unreasonably dangerous — failed.
Chicago’s lawsuit cited a sting in which undercover officers bought guns at suburban shops even after plainly telling the sellers that they were gang members, buying them for gang members, or taking them to Chicago, where handguns are banned.
“Allegations about defendants’ conduct, if true, suggest that defendants were not only aware that their products were used by third parties for criminal acts, but the defendants affirmatively sought to increase their profit by pandering to that market,” the five justices said in their concurring, separate opinion.
The five justices said the gun industry puts fewer restrictions on its dealers than do makers of chemicals or paint and produces criminal-friendly products such as easily concealable guns and weapons with fingerprint-resistant coating.
Mayor Daley disagrees
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley called the ruling disheartening.
“More drug dealers and gang bangers are buying more guns,” Daley said. “It has nothing to do with the Constitution, and it has nothing to do with hunters and sportsmen and collectors. It’s a safety issue.”
If prescription drugs and the auto industry can be regulated, the gun industry should be as well, the mayor said.
Gunmakers argued the lawsuits were attempts to prevent people from purchasing a legal product. They said criminals, not the gun industry, are responsible for violence. Among the manufacturers sued were Smith & Wesson, Beretta USA Corp. and Sturm Ruger & Co.
The court would have had to stretch the public nuisance theory to apply it here, said William Howard, lawyer for six retailers also named in the lawsuits.
“There’s a certain element of personal liability and personal responsibility that hopefully people take away from this: You can’t do something wrong and then claim somebody else made me do it,” Howard said.