NRA Aims Higher to Stop a Lawsuit

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The tobacco industry, saddled with lawsuits and expensive settlements with a number of states over the past years, knows only too well the dangers of suits seeking reparations for the alleged health costs of smoking. Now the gun industry, faced with a similar onslaught of legal problems, is trying to douse the ambitions of anti-gun activists before things get out of control. In Georgia on Tuesday, thanks to heavy lobbying from the National Rifle Association, state politicians moved swiftly to snuff out a lawsuit brought by the city of Atlanta only last week. The legislature passed -- and the governor promptly signed -- a measure that effectively bars the city from seeking reimbursements for the cost of gun-related violence. "This is one of he clearest signs that the gun business is deeply worried it could become the next tobacco industry,"says TIME writer Adam Cohen.

The concern has prompted the NRA to use any levers it can find. And in Georgia, says Cohen, "the means were to exploit the larger legal context in which states have traditionally wielded power over their underlings, municipalities." In short, the gun lobby used the state to pull the legal rug from under the city. "In a state like Georgia, where many politicians are sympathetic to the industry, the tactic worked," says Cohen. But the problem for the NRA goes far beyond Georgia. Four other cities in four other states -- Miami, New Orleans, Chicago and Bridgeport, Conn.-- have filed similar lawsuits, and still other cities are contemplating joining the legal bandwagon. It is open to question, says Cohen, whether the gun organization can be as successful at getting the states to stop the cities in these other cases. Aside from the different political climates, the gun lobby faces another big handicap: Despite its formidable reputation, "the gun lobby is not as well-funded or organized as the tobacco lobby," says Cohen.