In a significant tactical setback for the firearms industry, a federal judge in Los Angeles on Monday turned aside an industry request that he take jurisdiction in a lawsuit brought against handgun manufacturers, distributors and dealers by Los Angeles and other Southern California cities.
The ruling was the industry's fourth legal defeat in preliminary skirmishes with municipalities around the country in recent weeks. Federal judges in Louisiana, Michigan and Florida have turned aside similar industry attempts to transfer state court lawsuits brought by other municipalities to federal courts, said Jonathan Selbin, a private attorney whose firm represents many of the cities involved.
The industry argues that only federal courts have jurisdiction in the lawsuits because only the federal government has the power to regulate interstate commerce. "This court [can] look at the national scheme and determine what is best for this country in terms of firearms," Anne Giddings Kimball, a lawyer representing some of the gun manufacturers, told U.S. District Court Judge Ronald S.W. Lew.
But Giddings indicated in an interview that the industry is also seeking federal jurisdiction for a tactical reason--in the hopes that it can avoid fighting a series of brush fires in a variety of state courts. The industry apparently is aiming to consolidate the growing number of cases it faces from municipalities in one federal court setting.
In turning aside the industry's bid, Lew said that the cities appeared to be within their rights to pursue claims in a state court that the gun industry violated state laws regulating businesses because of the ways in which it marketed and outfitted its products.
The lawsuit, filed by the cities of Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Compton and Inglewood in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that the handgun industry has behaved as a public nuisance by failing to install sophisticated safety devices on firearms that would prevent their discharge by anyone other than the legal owner. The lawsuit also asserts that the gun industry illegally takes part in a black market distribution system that makes it easy for criminals to acquire guns.
San Francisco and Los Angeles County have filed similar suits as part of a national movement to use the courts to pressure the handgun industry to better control sales and add safety features to its weapons.