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Louisiana Lawmakers Void Gun Lawsuit

June 4, 1999

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ A bill intended to thwart New Orleans’ landmark lawsuit against gun manufacturers awaits the approval of Gov. Mike Foster, who promised to sign it into law ``as soon as it hits my desk.″

``The problem with all the national gun legislation is that it won’t stop violence,″ Foster said Thursday. ``The way to stop violence is to put people in jail who use guns. There’s just not enough prosecution.″

The bill, which passed the state Senate on Wednesday night without a dissenting vote, would prevent Louisiana cities from suing the gun industry for the costs of violent crime and accidental shootings.

The measure has a retroactive clause designed to nullify the first-in-the-nation suit filed last fall by New Orleans, which claimed that gun makers should be held responsible for making a product without adequate safety devices. Other cities _ including Boston on Thursday _ followed with similar suits.

Mayor Marc Morial said New Orleans would proceed with its suit and challenge the law in court.

``The Louisiana Legislature has taken a giant leap backwards by passing an ill-advised, unconstitutional law that is nothing but a sad sellout to the money and power of the gun lobby,″ he said.

John Church, associate professor at Louisiana State University Law Center, said the major legal question in the bill is whether it can be applied to a suit already filed.

Georgia adopted a similar law in February after heavy lobbying from the National Rifle Association. NRA President Charlton Heston had dropped by the Louisiana Capitol to support the ban.

Among the people who lobbied against the bill was Wilma Williams, whose 13-year-old son, Webster, accidentally shot himself to death in 1997 while he and his cousin were playing with a gun they didn’t realize was loaded.

``No money can replace Webster, but it will draw attention to the fact that guns need to be made safer,″ she said.

The lawsuit filed by Boston on Thursday seeks $100 million from 31 firearms companies to cover the costs of police, fire and medical expenses, as well as declines in real estate values.

The city accuses the gun industry of creating a public nuisance, negligent distribution and marketing, and failing to warn of the dangers of guns. The lawsuit also claims gun makers have failed to incorporate safety devices.

``These lawsuits, they have no merit,″ said Travis Hall, a spokesman for defendant Browning Arms Corp. ``Our industry is one of the most prohibited and monitored industries there is.″

Boston is the 20th city to file suit against the gun industry.

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