arcnav.gif (3459 bytes)

Back to pending legislation

Support for Litigation Against Gun Industry Sense of the Council Resolution of 1999
PR 13-56

DC Watch Home

Council Period 12

Council Period 13

Council Period 14

Council Period 15

Election 1998

Election 2000

Election 2002


Search DCWatch

Chairman Linda W. Cropp


To declare the sense of the Council in support of litigation on behalf of the District of Columbia against manufacturers, importers, and dealers of firearms that have discharged and caused bodily injury or death in the District of Columbia.

RESOLVED, BY THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, That this resolution may be cited as the "Support for Litigation Against Gun Industry Sense of the Council Resolution of 1999".

Sec. 2. Findings.

(a) In October 1998, New Orleans became the first city in the nation to file suit against gunmakers, demanding redress for the cost of responding to shootings in that city, and alleging that manufacturers of firearms failed to install safety devices that would prevent children and unauthorized users from firing guns.

(b) Chicago followed with its own lawsuit in November 1998, offering other liability theories.

(c) The number of municipalities suing the gun industry rose to four on January 27, 1999, when Miami-Dade County and Bridgeport, Connecticut filed separate lawsuits, and many other cities are planning to initiate litigation against the gun industry during the next few months.

(d) These municipal lawsuits seek to hold the manufacturers, dealers, or importers of firearms collectively liable for the multibillion-dollar public costs of violent crimes in their jurisdictions. The public costs of gun violence include, but are not limited to, law enforcement salaries, the purchase of emergency medical equipment, payments for services and facilities for the medical treatment of gunshot victims, and lost tax revenues due to defendants' products and actions. The suits are seeking either reimbursement for municipal costs related to gun violence, or restrictions on the ways that firearms are manufactured and distributed, or both.

(e) The New Orleans suit argues that, under Louisiana's unusually strict product liability law, guns are "unreasonably dangerous" because manufacturers have failed to take steps that would prevent the guns' use by children and other unauthorized users. The suit alleges, for example, that manufacturers have failed to include adequate warning of the risks that minors could gain access to weapons or include instructions on how to store a gun to avoid that risk.

(f) The New Orleans suit also claims that several devices have been available for more than two decades that would prevent an unauthorized person from firing the weapons, such as simple combination locks built into the handguns, or more complex palm-print, fingerprint, or other identification technology that would allow only the owner of a gun to fire it.

(g) The Chicago lawsuit argues that gun manufacturers have become a public nuisance, by using marketing and distribution methods designed to circumvent the city's highly restrictive gun laws, which prohibit handgun sales. According to the lawsuit, the gunmakers "knowingly oversupply" gun shops just outside the city's boundaries with the intention that many of those weapons will be sold to city residents.

(h) David Kairys, a professor of law at Temple University who helped Chicago develop its lawsuit and who is working with other cities, is quoted in The Washington Post as saying: "Handgun manufacturers knowingly participate in an illegal market that supplies criminals, and then they turn around and feed off the fear of crime by convincing people that they can protect themselves by buying these products. They profit from crime so they should pay the public costs of crime."

(i)(1) The District of Columbia has had one of the most stringent gun control laws in the nation for over two decades, prohibiting the possession, transfer, or sale of handguns in the District.

(2) Despite this strict local law, the District has experienced one of the highest rates of firearms-related violence in the nation during this same period, causing correspondingly high public costs associated with law enforcement, medical treatment, lost tax revenues, and other costs borne by the District government and by innocent victims and their families.

(3) The overwhelming majority of the guns that have been used to commit crimes in the District of Columbia were unlawfully in the District of Columbia and were originally purchased in neighboring states with less restrictive laws where guns are readily available, particularly the state of Virginia.

(j)(1) In 1990 the Council of the District of Columbia led by then Chairman David A. Clarke enacted the Assault Weapon Manufacturing Strict Liability Act.

(2) This strict liability law, which was temporarily repealed by the Council due to Congressional pressure but which then was reinstated by voter referendum, took effect in 1992 and was strengthened by the Council in 1994.

(3) The law provides that "any manufacturer, importer, or dealer of an assault weapon or machine gun shall be held strictly liable in tort, without regard to fault or proof of defect, for all direct and consequential damages that arise from bodily injury or death if the bodily injury or death proximately results from the discharge of the assault weapon or machine gun in the District of Columbia."

(4) The law further provides strict liability for any individual who can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence to have engaged in the illegal sale, loan, lease, or rental of a firearm for money or anything of value, without regard to either an intent to interfere with a legally protected interest or a breach of duty to exercise reasonable care, for all direct and consequential damages that arise from bodily injury or death if the bodily injury or death proximately results from the discharge of the firearm in the District of Columbia, regardless of whether the person operating the firearm is the original, illegal purchaser.

Sec. 3. (a) The Council strongly supports litigation on behalf of the District of Columbia against the gun industry to compensate the District for the enormous costs of gun-related violence in the District.

(b) The Council requests the Mayor and Corporation Counsel to obtain outside counsel who, at no cost to the District government, will represent the District in a lawsuit charging manufacturers, dealers, and importers of firearms with liability for firearms-related deaths and injuries in the District.

(c) This lawsuit should be based on several grounds, including the District's strict liability law and the liability theories which are being propounded by other municipalities, such as the failure of the gun industry to provide sufficient safety devices on firearms and to prevent unauthorized use of firearms, and acts by the gun industry to stimulate an illicit trade in firearms by flooding surrounding areas with more weapons than a legitimate, lawful market could ever accommodate.

(d) The Council calls upon the legal community and others to provide assistance to the preparation and advocacy of this important litigation on behalf of the residents of the District of Columbia.

Sec. 4. This resolution shall take effect immediately.

Back to top of page

Send mail with questions or comments to
Web site copyright ©DCWatch (ISSN 1546-4296)