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Senator wants to stop suit between city of St. Louis and gun manufacturers

December 09, 1999
By: Hollie Maloney
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - One lawmaker said he hopes to halt a pending lawsuit between city of St. Louis and gun manufacturers through legislation that would ban such a suit.

"I would hope that it will but I'll have to leave it up to the legal experts," said Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau.

After St. Louis City brought the suit in May, Kinder introduced similar legislation last session but didn't gain enough support for it, he said. The legislation would ban cities, counties and states from bringing suites against manufacturers. He filed the legislation Thursday to try again. It was filed within the same week that the Clinton Administration announced it considered suing the gun industry.

"They (cities) are filing bogus lawsuits to recover medical costs from criminals who shot each other in drug related violence and are saying it was the gun manufacturers responsibility. They aren't responsible for someone misusing the product," said Kinder.

Columbia Rep. Chuck Graham said he is against it because it excludes certain groups from the courts.

"I'm not going to take away the local governments' right to the court system," Graham said.

Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia, said he is careful about excluding certain industries from accountability.

"I'm always concerned when any legislator wants to say to a particular industry, 'It doesn't matter what you do, we'll not hold you liable,'" he said.

Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, agreed.

"Giving immunity for gun manufacturers is not for legislators to decide," he said. The Columbia lawyer said he would probably question the constitutionality of it.

Jacob also compared this case to that dispute to that of tobacco.

"They sued the tobacco company saying, 'You put a put a product into the stream of commerce and that product is unreasonably dangerous and injuring people and as a result we've had to pay for the treatment of the people. Therefore we should be able to recover for damages caused by your product,'" he said.

Because there is a foreseeable risk of harm with guns as well as with tobacco, Jacob said, there needs to be some degree of liability.

Sen. Dave Klarich, R-St. Louis County, said manufactures shouldn't be held responsible because it is the choice of the person to use it in a deadly way.

"It is not the manufacturers' job responsibility to police or oversee how people use the product," he said.

Kinder said his legislation accounts for anyone injured because of manufacturer defects, but not for the misuse of the weapon.

"I don't want to ban legitimate lawsuits brought by anyone," he said. "I want to bar lawsuits that are seeking to recover damages from gun manufacturers when there was nothing wrong with the product to begin with."