WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court (search) refused Monday to block a lawsuit against gun manufacturers accused of negligence for firearms violence in the nation's capital.
An appeals court had said that the District of Columbia government and individual gun victims, including a man who was left a quadriplegic (search) after being shot in 1997, could sue under a D.C. law that says gun manufacturers can be held accountable for violence from assault weapons.
The high court had been asked over the summer to use the case to strike down the statute, which gun makers said interfered with their right to sell lawful products.
The lawsuit could still be voided by a new federal law, however. The Senate voted in July to shield firearms manufacturers, dealers and importers from lawsuits brought by victims of gun crimes. Action is pending in the House.
The District of Columbia has strict rules about gun possession, and justices had been told that its law interfered with the gun commerce in other states. Twelve states had urged the Supreme Court to hear the case and rule with gun makers: Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia.
"The District of Columbia's statute threatens ... gun manufacturers with draconian penalties based on their lawful out-of-state commercial activity — and on the criminal misconduct of third parties over whom the manufacturers have no control," justices were told in a filing by former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, now the lawyer for the gun companies.
The case does not involve the Second Amendment right to "keep and bear arms." Instead, it challenges the law under the Commerce Clause's ban on "direct regulation" of out-of-state commerce and on the due process clause.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit had ruled last spring in the case against Beretta USA Corp., Smith & Wesson Corp., Colt's Manufacturing Co., Glock Inc., and other companies.
"No due process issue is raised by legislation that seeks to redress injuries suffered by district residents and visitors resulting from the manufacture and distribution of a particular class of firearms whose lethal nature far outweighs their utility," Judge Michael Farrell wrote.
The case is Beretta v. District of Columbia, 05-118.