Gun owners group may file suit against cities suing gun makers Foundation leader hopes filing will slow action against manufacturers

December 12, 1998|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Taking aim at the nation's mayors, a prominent gun owners organization issued a threat yesterday to Baltimore and the dozens of other cities considering suits against America's firearms manufacturers: If you sue gun makers, we'll sue you.

Officials with the Second Amendment Foundation, a Bellevue, Wash., group that claims 600,000 gun owners as members, say they have begun drawing up lawsuits against New Orleans and Chicago. This fall, those two cities became the first to pursue the gun makers in court, where they seek damages for the police, emergency and medical costs associated with gun violence.

Alan M. Gottlieb, the gun organization's founder, said he hoped a gun owners' lawsuit would slow the legal attack against gun makers. That attack gained momentum this week with a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Chicago, where Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco and Bridgeport, Conn., announced they would pursue similar suits against gun makers.

Gottlieb said the foundation's threat was targeted at those four cities as well as municipalities such as Baltimore, where Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has lawyers studying the prospects of a lawsuit. Industry executives and their trade associations say that if 50 or more U.S. cities file lawsuits, the legal costs of a defense would push many gun companies into bankruptcy.

"These lawsuits need to stop. They make as much sense as suing the National Weather Bureau for the cost of storm damages," says Gottlieb. "The real intent of the cities is to force the manufacturers to spend a fortune. And those costs will be passed on to consumers."

Gottlieb called the Chicago meeting evidence of a "conspiracy" by mayors to deny gun owners their "civil rights" under the Second Amendment. The cities' lawsuits amount to "interference with interstate commerce," he said. Both of Gottlieb's arguments figure to be part of the legal claim.

That lawsuit is being refined by a team of 12 law professors put together by California attorney Don Kates, a strong advocate of gun rights. Gottlieb says the suit will be filed early next year on "friendly turf" -- the conservative federal courts in Louisiana, a state where license plates read "Sportsman's Paradise."

Kates says the lawsuit could seek damages for the legal costs to gun makers of fighting the cities' suits. The foundation will also seek out conservative mayors to join its own suit.

Such mayors could argue that the cost of gun litigation by cities against manufacturers has unfairly raised the price of firearms -- and, hence, the cost to taxpayers of outfitting their police departments with weapons.

"We believe we have a strong case that the cities now suing are making frivolous claims," said Daniel Polsby, a professor of law at Northwestern University. "The cities don't intend to win; they intend to bleed the industry. These are not good-faith lawsuits."

Gottlieb founded the Second Amendment Foundation in 1974. A rival of the larger National Rifle Association, the foundation publishes newsletters and magazines from offices in Bellevue, Wash., and Buffalo, N.Y. The foundation has had success filing suits on behalf of gun owners in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New Haven, Conn.

But this week, mayors including Alex Penelas of Miami-Dade and Scott L. King of Gary, Ind., brushed off the foundation's threat. In an interview after Wednesday's meeting in Chicago, Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has called on cities around the country to mimic his suit against gun makers, said mayors have little to fear from the foundation or other counter-suits.

"We're mayors. We're cities. We get sued all the time," Daley said.

Pub Date: 12/12/98

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