Thursday, January 18, 2001

City's firearms lawsuit revived

Supreme Court of Ohio agrees to hear case

By Dan Horn and Spencer Hunt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The City of Cincinnati will get one more chance in court to prove gun makers are responsible for gun violence.

        The Ohio Supreme Court revived the city's lawsuit against gun makers Wednesday in a 4-3 decision that will keep the case alive for at least another year.

        The narrow victory is a first for the city, which last year lost two battles to gun manufacturers in the lower courts.

        The decision also is the latest example of a continuing and deep political divide among the seven justices.

        “This is significant,” said Stan Chesley, the city's attorney. “This case should move on so we can get some answers.”

        The lawsuit contends gun manufacturers owe the city millions of dollars in expenses and damages.

        The city claims gun makers are responsible for the misuse of firearms and are negligent because they failed to design weapons with adequate safety devices.

        But in two recent decisions, lower courts tossed out the city's case.

        Those courts concluded that gun manufacturers cannot be held liable for the irresponsible use of firearms.

        “We feel the lower courts were correct,” said James Dorr, an attorney for the Connecticut-based Sturm & Ruger gun company. “Under the laws of Ohio, the (city's) case has no legal basis.”

        The court's ruling did not reverse the lower courts, but it gives the city another chance to argue its case.

        If the city wins, the case will return to Hamilton County Common Pleas Court for a trial. If the gun makers win, the case is over.

        The close 4-3 vote mirrors a split among the justices that's become very familiar in controversial cases.

        Justices Alice Robie Resnick, Paul Pfeifer, Andrew Douglas and Francis Sweeney voted to hear the city's case. Dissenting was Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, along with Justices Deborah Cook and Evelyn Lundberg Stratton.

        The same split appears in two 4-3 decisions declaring the state's funding system for schools unconstitutional. The four justices also overturned a state law intended to limit the amount juries can award in liability cases.

        The decisions have enraged Republicans to a point where business groups mounted an unsuccessful campaign to oust Justice Resnick in November.

        The justices' next vote in the gun case may not come for another year or more. They are not expected to hear arguments for at least six months.


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