Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Starbucks Shooter

Victims vs. Guns

D.C. Superior Court Judge Cheryl M. Long dismissed a multi-million dollar lawsuit, filed in January 2000, against the nation's firearms makers and distributors. Instigated by the D.C. government and the victims of gun violence, gun control advocates had used the Starbucks incident as leverage. However, in a 103-page opinion, Judge Long found the lawsuit so "fundamentally flawed" that she did not feel justified in moving it to the next step. She rejected arguments that the government was entitled to payment for resources expended on gun violence cases, such as emergency services, police investigations, and medical expenses.

Twenty-five companies named in the suit, the first of its kind in the D.C. district, had filed a motion to have it tossed out of court. Among them were Smith & Wesson, Baretta USA, Colt's Manufacturing, and Ruger & Co. Judge Long agreed, stating that the suit was full of "legal deficiencies," not the least of which was the fact that the city's lawyers had not proven that any act by the companies could be clearly associated with a specific violent incident.

The National Gun Association viewed the decision as a major victory and hoped it would stem the tide of other municipal suits around the country. Thirty states had even passed laws granting the firearms industry immunity from such legal proceedings, in order to avoid numerous frivolous lawsuits from clogging up courtroom resources.

Attorneys for the city noted, however, that in other areas appellate courts had overturned such decisions, effectively reviving them. Thus, D.C. officials would consider whether to appeal Long's ruling. So many people were maimed or killed each year by guns, many of which were clearly not used for hunting or personal protection, that officials believed the anti-gun movement would eventually reach critical mass and produce needed reform.

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