INDIANAPOLIS | State lawmakers are close to retroactively terminating a 15-year-old lawsuit filed by the city of Gary against several gun manufacturers and retailers.

The Republican-controlled House voted 72-23 on Tuesday for Senate Bill 98, which essentially goes back in time to prohibit Gary from seeking damages from the gun companies for their alleged complicity in the illegal retail sale of handguns.

State Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, the sponsor, said the lawsuit -- which has idled in the courts for the past six years -- is deterring gun makers from locating in Indiana because they believe the state is unfriendly to gun businesses, even though state law since 2001 has barred civil lawsuits against them.

"Having a viable firearms and ammunition industry is a compelling state interest, as is having a firearms industry that can provide law enforcement and the military with the equipment they need to keep the peace," Smaltz said.

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Opponents of the measure said it is plainly unconstitutional and grossly interferes with the required separation of powers by having the Legislature and governor insert themselves in a pending court case.

"This bill is an abomination," said state Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis. "It's an insult to the legal system; it's an insult to the people of Gary and it will be one of the two or three most overreaching and wrong acts of this General Assembly."

The measure was revised Monday by the House to prohibit the gun companies from seeking reimbursement of their attorney fees from Gary.

As a result, it must again pass the Republican-controlled Senate or be sent to a House-Senate conference committee to devise a compromise version, subject to re-approval by both chambers.

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