D.C. court throws out lawsuit against firearm industry

D.C. court throws out lawsuit against firearm industry

On Dec. 16, 2002, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Cheryl M. Long threw out a lawsuit filed by the District of Columbia and several city residents against 25 firearms manufacturers and distributors. The two-yearold suit sought millions of dollars in damages, accusing the manufacturers and distributors of failing to prevent criminals from misusing their products in the city, and of advertising guns to be directly used for criminal purposes.

Judge Long ruled that the suit was fundamentally flawed, unpersuasive, “burdened with many layers of legal deficiencies,” did not establish either a “special relationship” between actions of the firearm industry and D.C. gun crimes or “any facts by which [the plaintiffs] can obtain a judgment against the defendants,” and could not be allowed to proceed. “This is not a close question,” Judge Long said, noting the suit also ran afoul of the Commerce and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The city’s claims were based in part on the D.C. Assault Weapons Manufacturing Strict Liability Act of 1990, which says that any company that makes, sells or distributes a machine gun or an assault weapon is liable for injuries involving firearms of those types. Judge Long noted, however, that there was no evidence that firearms addressed by the act were involved in any of the crimes at issue in the D.C. case. She further ruled that the city exceeded its authority by attempting to use the law in its suit, because the D.C. Court of Appeals had ruled in 1989, in Delahanty v. Hinckley, that D.C. law cannot require firearm manufacturers to limit, restrict, or monitor the sale or distribution of their products outside the city.

Judge Long compared the D.C. suit to several similar cases. In Hamilton v. Beretta, which she called a “virtual carbon copy” of the D.C. case, the New York Court of Appeals threw out a jury verdict and ordered the suit dismissed. In Merrill v. Navegar, Inc., the California Supreme Court rejected the plaintiffs’ attempt to circumvent state law, which prohibits certain kinds of liability claims against the gun industry, by focusing on the marketing of a particular firearm. Judge Long called the California ruling “useful because it reflects another facet of appellate court rejection of this type of litigation, however cleverly the allegations might be framed.”

Copyright National Rifle Association of America Mar 2003

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