Activism on guns? Judges resist the urge
Judges are often accused of "activism" – a desire to extend their reach from interpreting the law and resolving cases to making policy on matters that are none of their darn business. So they deserve credit when they resist invitations to over-ride democracy. That's what the Illinois Supreme Court did by a unanimous vote Thursday, in a decision with repercussions beyond the state's borders.
The cases involved lawsuits against gun dealers and manufacturers who offer weaponry in Illinois. The city of Chicago has a strict ban on handgun ownership, but guns may be sold in neighboring suburbs, even to Chicago residents. Some of those guns end up being used to kill people in Chicago.
Unhappy about his inability to expand his control of the city to areas beyond, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley turned to the courts for relief. Along with the families of several murder victims, the city filed a lawsuit accusing the industry of creating a "public nuisance" merely by selling legal products to people who are legally entitled to buy them. They demanded that the gun makers and sellers pay $433 million to cover the costs of gun violence and stop doing business as they have done.
This was a novel theory, but not a novel approach. Several years ago, taking a page from the anti-tobacco movement, gun opponents decided that if they couldn't legislate, they could litigate. They filed a host of lawsuits holding gun makers and gun dealers responsible for every unwanted consequence of firearm use.
Almost every court that has been presented with this kind of suit has rejected it, for the same reasons offered by the Illinois Supreme Court: "Any change of this magnitude in the law affecting a highly regulated industry must be the work of the legislature, brought about by the political process, not the work of the courts."
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