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City Attorney Dennis Herrera is going national to fight a proposed law that threatens to blow San Francisco’s 4-year-old lawsuit against gun companies out of the water. Herrera’s written an op-ed piece that his office hopes to land in papers like The New York Times, said spokesman Matt Dorsey. Herrera has done guest editorials on state issues, but the city attorney said this is the first time he’s written one on a piece of national legislation. His office is also providing Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who’s expected to lead opposition to S. 659 in the Senate, with legal background for the debate, Herrera said. He was on Capitol Hill for meetings last week. The “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act” would shield firearm and ammunition manufacturers, distributors, dealers and importers from being sued for harm caused by unlawful use of their products, if they function as designed and intended. “The goal of everything we’re doing is to educate the populace on the negative aspects of this bill and its wide-ranging impact, and what it would mean for people’s access to the courts,” Herrera said. In San Francisco, the bill would directly affect the city’s lawsuit against gun companies, Herrera noted. San Francisco is one of 12 municipalities in California in a coordinated suit against major gun manufacturers, trade associations and certain distributors and dealers, alleging public nuisance and unfair and unlawful business practices, said Owen Clements, chief of special litigation for the city attorney. The plaintiffs’ theory is that the defendants don’t take adequate control over gun distribution and distribute guns in ways they know are likely to land the weapons quickly in the hands of criminals and juveniles, Clements said. Proponents of S. 659 believe it falls in the category of “reasonable protections for lawful gun owners,” said Will Hart, a spokesman for sponsor Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. If the bill becomes law, “our lawsuit would be directly obliterated,” said Louise Renne, who was city attorney when the suit was filed. “It would give the defendants another ground” to ask for dismissal, Clements said. By taking an activist role to oppose what Renne calls “pre-emption” at the national level, Herrera is carrying on an important tradition, she said. She and another attorney from the office once went to Washington to push for opposition of a bill that similarly threatened the city’s lawsuit against tobacco companies at the time, she said. She wrote opinion pieces for out-of-state audiences during her tenure, too, she added. “I think it’s perfectly appropriate and necessary sometimes to do op-ed pieces in The New York Times, because that’s a nationally read newspaper,” Renne said. “Clearly members of Congress read The New York Times.” People of the State of California v. Arcadia Machine & Tool Inc., JCCP-4095, has been wending its way through the courts since 1999. San Diego Superior Court Judge Vincent DiFiglia recently granted summary judgment in favor of some of the defendants, including manufacturers and trade associations, Clements said. As to the remaining defendants, a court trial is set for May 16, he said. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction for relief to reform the defendants’ business practices, as well as civil penalties that have yet to be quantified, Clements said. The House of Representatives passed H.R. 1036, a companion bill to S. 659, with a 285-to-140 vote in April. While the trial may be wrapped up in a month or two, perhaps before the Senate bill has been voted on, appeals can take years, Clements said. The plaintiffs in the California suit haven’t decided whether to appeal DiFiglia’s summary judgment decision, Clements said.

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