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The District of Columbia has approved the most far-reaching gun-control bill in the nation, a measure to make manufacturers and dealers liable for deaths and injuries caused by semiautomatic weapons.

Mayor Marion Barry Jr. said today he has signed the bill. However, it will face strong opposition from the National Rifle Association when it arrives in Congress for a 30-day review period that begins when Congress returns to legislative business Jan. 23.

Congress normally lets new city laws stand, but controversial measures sometimes become platforms for ideological debate and are defeated.

"I think we have to take all measures to try to get the guns off the streets of America," Barry said. "The manufacturer has to begin to take some of the weight."

Barry said everybody who touches guns used in homicides should be held liable.

The measure, which was approved by the City Council last week, would give private citizens the right to sue for damages from manufacturers and sellers of semiautomatic weapons, regardless of where the makers and dealers do business.

"It's time for these merchants of death to pay a price," said council member William Lightfoot, who co-sponsored the bill.

Officials in Washington, which has the nation's highest homicide rate, say that since January 1988 70 percent of the 8,500 guns recovered by police have been traced to dealers in neighboring Maryland and Virginia.

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