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Supreme Wisdom in Illinois
This week, the Illinois Supreme court killed a class of lawsuits designed to hold gun makers responsible for what their customers do with the guns they make. Trial lawyers are aghast as the Illinois Supremes, not exactly the most conservative body in the history of the judiciary, refused to make new law beyond that the legislature already enacted. Moreover, they refused to make new law that would have further chipped away at our gravely-threatened Second Amendment rights. Even Steve Chapman, a liberal fixture on the Chicago Tribune editorial page, hailed this decision, as well he should have.
"These loony lawsuits were the brainchild of Richard M. Daley, mayor of Chicago. Chicago already has near-Nazi gun control laws, prohibiting anyone other than a police officer from even looking at a handgun on pain of prison time. Of course, these laws, which keep the citizenry unarmed and easy prey for the criminals among them, helped to ensconce Chicago as the most dangerous big city in America."
These loony lawsuits were the brainchild of Richard M. Daley, mayor of Chicago. Chicago already has near-Nazi gun control laws, prohibiting anyone other than a police officer from even looking at a handgun on pain of prison time. Of course, these laws, which keep the citizenry unarmed and easy prey for the criminals among them, helped to ensconce Chicago as the most dangerous big city in America. When law-abiding citizens with Illinois Firearm Owner ID cards (another Neo-Nazi device designed to thwart the peoplesí rights) ventured into neighboring suburbs like Burbank or Alsip, gun dealers there would do the legal thing, run the right checks, and sell guns to Chicago citizens. Chicago responded by suing the gun shop owners and the gun makers, claiming that they knew or should have known that their weapons may be used by criminals; and therefore they ought not to have made (or sold) them in the first place. They continued by saying that the creation of extra-small guns was an intentional effort to assist criminals in concealing weapons, notwithstanding the many jurisdictions where concealed carry is permitted. They also said that making guns with finishes that happened to resist fingerprints was an intentional effort not to make a gun easier to clean, but to make it harder to convict those who use guns in crimes.
Thank God for the Illinois Supreme Court. They realized that Chicagoís legal theory is frightening. Itís akin to suing Ford Motor Company because a drunk drove an Explorer when he ran over an innocent person. Itís akin to suing McDonalds because a fat person who had no self-control ordered 35 Big Macs per day and clogged his arteries. Itís akin to all of the tobacco suits ever filed (I hate smoking, but I have no right to force others to do my bidding). The city seeks to discharge the responsibility of the shooter, and attempts to redirect that responsibility to businessmen. Itís classical leftist class-warfare with a slight redirection.
"Chicago knew that their suits would probably be thrown out of court, but themere act of filing cost these honest businessmen and businesswomen, and their stockholders, millions in costs and attorney fees. Theyíll never see that money again."
Chicago knew that their suits would probably be thrown out of court, but the mere act of filing these abuses of process cost these honest businessmen and businesswomen, and their stockholders, millions in costs and attorney fees. In a relatively small lawsuit, it can cost $30-50,000 in attorney fees simply to win a motion to dismiss to get the case tossed out of court. The defendant-victims never see that money again. Why? Because our legal system, unlike others in the world, does not force the loser to pay the winnerís costs and attorney fees, people can bring "test cases" to protect the downtrodden. However, that right is subject to abuse. These gun cases are glaring examples of that abuse.
These lawsuits ruin the legal system for those who are truly in need of redress. They are why clothes have labels that instruct the owner not to iron the garment while wearing it. There is a multi-billion dollar cost associated with the creation and management of product liability disclaimers because wacky lawyers in search of another payday will bring the most audacious suits to court, knowing that they lose almost nothing if it is tossed out of court. Chicago relied on a variant of this theory, sort of like a product-oriented SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Any SLAPP is an abuse of process that uses the choking expense of defending frivolous litigation to force the innocent defendant to capitulate by eating up capital to defend these suits. The gun makers, were not for this victory, would have won these lawsuits, right to the point theyíre bankrupt. It si the SLAPP way -- Who cares if you lose the legal battle if you end up driving the defendant out of business? A SLAPP also can, if encountered by an activist judge, give that judge an undeserved window to rule by fiat and issue a decision that makes a law that neither the Constitution nor the legislature contemplated.
So, kudos to the Supremes of Illinois. They got the heck out of the legislatureís business and killed these types of suits before the gun companies were as ruined as the tobacco companies. I strongly urge the Congress to pass the pending gun manufacturer tort protection law, in order to save an industry that is vital to our Constitutional rights from further oppression by maniacal city mayors who aspire to be Fuerher, even outside their borders. As to the proliferation of SLAPP-type suits, some states (Calfornia in particular) have anti-SLAPP laws, but they are not enough. If a case is legally insufficient, or if the facts require dismissal without trial, and the judge rules that way, the defendants ought to be reimbursed all costs plus attorney fees, unless the plaintiff can show a good faith rationale for changing or reversing the law. And the burden should be on the Plaintiff. That in and of itself will kill the SLAPP forever, and we wonít have to pray that the next Himmler-wannabe runs up against a court as wise as the Illinois Supremes.