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Lawmakers want to keep St. Louis from suing the gun industry

April 14, 1999
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1057

JEFFERSON CITY - The assault on gun control beats on in the State legislature.

Not two weeks after voters rejected concealed weapons, a bill was introduced in the House that would prohibit cities or counties from suing the gun industry.

Nationwide, several cities have filed suit against gun manufacturers for damages caused by firearms. Some of the lawsuits target the firearm industry for not providing devices that prevent unauthorized use. St. Louis officials say they will file a similar lawsuit.

The lawsuits seek damage awards from the firearms industry for costs of handling shootings and treating shooting victims.

Legislators say that litigation penalizing industries for proper function of their products -- litigation like the tobacco settlement -- needs to stop.

"To go after an industry because it's not in the favor of the public is a misuse of the legal system," said Rep. Todd Akin, R-St. Louis County. "If you drive a GM, get drunk and have a wreck, you can't sue GM."

Sponsor Rep. Larry Crawford, R-Centertown, said constituents in his district have been complaining about the suits.

"They've asked me, 'What's next? Cars,'" he said.

The comparison to cars is interesting to Julianne Stone, policy assistant for St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon, whose office will file a suit.

"People compare guns to cars, but guns are the only consumer product not susceptible to consumer safety laws," she said. "Cars have to have seat belts."

When St. Louis will join Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta, Cleveland, Dade County Florida, and Bridgeport, Conn. in filing a suit is unknown.

Crawford said stopping St. Louis' pending suit is the intent of the bill. With less than five weeks left in the legislative session, the bill has little chance of passage this year.

Scott Holste, spokesman for the Attorney General Jay Nixon, said although Nixon did join the tobacco suit, he is not considering bringing the state into a suit against the gun industry.

Similar legislation to this bill has been introduced in 21 states, passing in three. Rep. Jon Bennett, R-St. Charles county, plans to introduce a bill that would also preempt the state from suing the gun industry.

Earlier this week, the legislature knocked out a proposal that would require gun dealers to post a sign reminding buyers to keep guns away from children.