WASHINGTON – Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke said Thursday he will decide by early spring whether to sue the gun industry for medical and policing costs the city has incurred as a result of gun-related violence.
By that time, Schmoke said, the city will have time to more fully consider its legal options and it should know the fate of gun-control bills being proposed in the Senate.
“I like the legislation and regulation approach,” he said. “[But] some people would argue they still want to sue manufacturers to get money for local jurisdictions. …. I’m not sure I agree with that.”
Schmoke said Baltimore could join a possible class-action suit with the four other local governments or it could sue the manufacturers on its own.
But Maryland gun-rights supporters, including a manufacturer and an importer in the state, said the lawsuits are just an attempt to “accomplish through litigation what could not be accomplished through legislation.”
“It would strike me as ironic if Baltimore were to choose to attack a company from its home state that has provided a great deal of tax revenue and job opportunities,” said Jeff Reh, general counsel for Beretta U.S.A. Corp., a gun manufacturer located in Accokeek.
A spokeswoman for Miltex Inc., a Waldorf firm that imports handguns from Bulgaria, said the lawsuits will be “devastating for the industry. It’s going to put a lot of small businesses out of business.
“I think there’s an unfair trend in this country to not hold individuals responsible for their actions,” said Francesca Watson, of Miltex. “They place an unfair burden on the manufacturers because there are irresponsible people out there.”
Schmoke said Philadelphia officials “sent information on their case when they were contemplating” suing manufacturers last year. Philadelphia has not yet filed that suit.
Chicago, Miami-Dade County, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Conn., are currently pursuing individual lawsuits. Chicago’s suit charges that gun manufacturers and dealers knowingly distribute their product to criminals. The other suits accuse the industry of failing to include adequate safety features on its weapons.
But Schmoke said he has been talking with mayors for a year about the possibility of a group suit. He said it came up again at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington on Thursday when “there was a request … for people to consider joining a suit.”
The fate of gun-control measures being proposed in the Senate could affect Baltimore’s decision, however.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., plans to reintroduce bills in February that would crack down on gun sales by unlicensed dealers at gun shows and make it a federal crime to buy more than one gun a month, which is already the law in Maryland and three other states.
Lautenberg also wants federal funding to research into “smart-gun” technology, which would make it impossible for anyone but a gun’s owner to fire the weapon. He also wants to let cities collect federal costs related to gun violence, if the federal government does not sue.
“Cities are looking for more accountability, and these bills answer some of their concerns,” said Mark Nevins, a spokesman for Lautenberg.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., may also introduce a bill to make guns subject to regulation by the Consumer Safety Product Commission.
But Reh said that Beretta’s guns are safe products.
“We’re already shipping guns with locks included … and our packaging gives a number they can contact to get a lock,” he said.
He said the threatened lawsuits are misguided.
“They’re trying to achieve through litigation what they were not able to achieve through legislation,” he said. “I think the lawsuits are misdirected and from a legal point of view, I have no doubt they will fail.”