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D.C. Liability Suit Underscores Need For Reckless Lawsuit Preemption Legislation

Friday, April 22, 2005

As we've lately reported in the Grassroots Alert, "The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act" was recently introduced in Congress as S. 397 in the U.S. Senate, and H.R. 800 in the U.S. House.  This NRA-backed lawsuit preemption legislation protects law-abiding firearm manufacturers from reckless, predatory lawsuits.

Yet another example of the pressing need to pass such legislation surfaced this week as the District of Columbia Court of Appeals yesterday ruled that firearm manufacturers can be sued for shootings in the District under a "strict liability statute."

The judges, however, rejected the broad assertion of the D.C. government and a group of residents who maintained that they should be able to sue manufacturers and dealers for creating a public nuisance and negligence.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Cheryl M. Long dismissed the entire case in December 2002, leading to the appeal.  In addition to rejecting the nuisance and negligence claims, Justice Long found that the strict liability law was unconstitutional.  In her decision, Justice Long indicated the case never stood a chance of passing legal muster, writing, "This is not a close question."  She also said the case was "burdened with many layers of legal deficiencies," and that the D.C. government went beyond the scope of nuisance and other laws.

Last year, a three-judge panel with the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld Long's ruling, once again dismissing the nuisance and negligence claims, but allowing the city to pursue the case under the strict liability statute.

With this ruling, the court has once again thrown out the traditional role of "liability."   With the introduction of "absolute liability," a defendant is essentially stripped of almost any defense.  While the Court took a positive step in affirming that firearm manufacturers are not responsible for the criminal misuse of firearms due to (in this case) "negligence" and "public nuisance," the case represents yet another blatant example of the need to pass a comprehensive federal lawsuit protection bill.

It is imperative that you continue to contact your U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative and ask them to cosponsor and support S.397 and H.R. 800--without any anti-gun amendments--and put a halt to these reckless lawsuits once and for all.  Again, please be sure to let them know that you consider any votes in support of anti-gun amendments to this legislation as votes against the bill itself.

To access the most up-to-date information on this issue, please go to the "Stop Reckless Lawsuits Against the Firearm Industry" heading at, www.NRAILA.org.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.