In a 5-2 ruling Tuesday, the state's highest court upheld the constitutionality of a special law passed by the state Legislature that retroactively banned cities from filing lawsuits against handgun makers, the first such state supreme court decision in the nation.
New Orleans was the first governmental jurisdiction to sue handgun makers for allegedly not instituting distribution controls to keep them out of the illicit market and for not requiring safety locks or other equipment to keep them out of authorized hands, such as those of children.
More than 30 other government jurisdictions have followed New Orleans' lead and filed similar lawsuits in the past three years across the nation.
The National Shooting Sports foundation declared the Louisiana ruling a major defeat for the governments that have filed the lawsuits against the gun industry.
"We are pleased that the Louisiana Supreme Court has a greater respect for the authority of the state Legislature and the constitutionally prescribed legislative process than does the mayor of New Orleans and his Handgun Control Inc., allies," said Robert T. Delfay, president and chief executive officer of the foundation.
In the decision, the majority opinon stated that New Orleans was trying to regulate the firearms industry and that that stepped on the authority of the state.
"A scheme allowing several municipalities to file suits effectively attempting to regulate the firearms industry in different ways and in different degrees could conceivably threaten the public safety and welfare by resulting in haphazard and inconsistent rules governing firearms in Louisiana," Justice Catherine "Kitty" Kimball wrote for the majority.
New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial called the ruling a "travesty of justice" and said the Supreme Court had sided with the "gun lobby's bullying tactics." He said he would seek another hearing with the court and look into other legal options to keep the lawsuit alive.
A senior attorney for Center to Prevent Handgun Violence in Washington said that the Louisiana decision affected only that state and that "progress" was still being made in other parts of the nation with similar lawsuits, although there have been a few setbacks.
"In the tobacco cases, for example, it took a long time to break through against the industry, and these are also cases that are pushing forward and establishing new ground, and so, overall, I think we are very pleased," said attorney Brian Siebel.
"Two cases have scheduled trial dates, and we are actively involved in discovery in those cases, and as the facts come out about the gun industry the cases will become more compelling."
Governmental jurisdictions have filed 33 lawsuits against the gun industry. Of those, 18 are going forward, nine have been dismissed, and six have not had decisions on motions to dismiss. None of the cases has gone to trial, Siebel said.
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