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In a unanimous panel decision last week, the D.C. Court of Appeals dismissed a suit by the D.C. government against more than 20 of the nation’s largest gunmakers, importers, or distributors over local injuries and deaths caused by assault weapons. The court found that the suit, which was filed in 2000, is now barred by federal law. But the Jan. 10 decision written by Judge Michael Farrell noted that the District might have kept the suit alive if it had initially sought to prove links between the gun industry and local illegal firearms sales. In a 2005 en banc opinion, the court reversed the dismissal of claims that the defendants had violated a D.C. law that holds gunmakers, importers, and distributors to strict liability “without regard to fault or proof of defect” for all damages from the use of assault weapons or machine guns in the District. But later that same year, Congress passed a law prohibiting a growing number of similar suits across the country, which essentially made the District’s strict liability act moot. The case included nine individual plaintiffs who had been shot or were survivors of gunshot victims, while the defendants included Beretta USA Corp., Browning Arms Co., Glock Inc., and Smith & Wesson Corp., among others. D.C. Acting Attorney General Peter Nickles says the District is considering its options about further appeals in the case. Catherine Bledsoe, a partner at Gordon Feinblatt in Baltimore who represented Beretta, says the decision is “thoughtful, well-written, and correct.” A constitutional challenge to the District’s unrelated handgun ban is still pending before the Supreme Court.
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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