WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court Friday asked a District of Columbia court to decide whether makers of cheap handguns such as the one used to shoot President Reagan may be sued for resulting deaths and injuries.
The request by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington raised the possibility that lawsuits could be revived against the manufacturer of the .22-caliber pistol used by John W. Hinckley Jr. to shoot Reagan and three other people in 1981.
Referral of the legal issue to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals was made in a case involving Thomas K. Delahanty, a former District of Columbia policeman who was wounded by Hinckley. Delahanty had tried to sue the gun manufacturer.
It raises the possibility that suits by Delahanty and White House Press Secretary James S. Brady, who was left crippled by the attack, could be reinstated against Roehm Gesellschaft, the West German gun manufacturer.
The District of Columbia court's view was sought because federal courts must apply the laws of the states in which they are located to civil suits.
The three-judge appellate panel invited the district's highest court to decide whether to adopt a 1985 ruling by Maryland's highest court that made gun makers and sellers liable for injuries and death caused by the criminal use of so-called Saturday Night Specials.
The federal court's request is a suggestion and does not require a ruling by the District of Columbia court.
Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity and is being held in a local mental hospital.