On Dec. 11 the D.C. Council passed the Assault Weapon Manufacturing Strict Liability Act. Disregarding opinions offered by The Post on four occasions {editorials, Feb. 4, 1989; July 5, 1989; July 11, 1989; and Dec. 11, 1990}, the council passed the bill to encourage manufacturers and distributors of deadly assault weapons to pay more attention to the damage and injury their products do by making them pay for those damages and injuries suffered in the District.

On July 11, 1989, The Post urged the council to reject this bill, which at that time covered all weapons banned in the District, because the legislation presumed that all handguns made anywhere were abnormally dangerous and that their risks far outweighed their benefits. "You could say the same thing about a baseball bat, of course, or perhaps a hammer," the editorial said.

However, The Post has admirably taken every opportunity to decry the use and distribution of assault weapons. A July 25 editorial urged the House to pass the Brady bill, which would establish a seven-day waiting period for all gun purchases. The Post wrote, "the carnage continues and will go on ... until something is done about the guns." An Oct. 25 editorial criticized President Bush for weakening the federal import ban against semiautomatic assault weapons, particularly in light of his 1989 announcement that assault rifles have no legitimate civilian uses.

While adamantly disagreeing with The Post that the danger and ratio of risks to benefits are the same for handguns and baseball bats, the gun liability bill passed by the council last week specifically affects those weapons that the July 25 editorial identified as "killing tools." Indeed, the bill follows a suggestion made by The Post. A Feb. 4, 1989, editorial suggested that "The District of Columbia should narrow the scope of its measure as applied to handguns; but it may well broaden it, too, to include certainly semi-automatic 'assault' rifles that have no place on the general market."

We agree on something. Unlike baseball bats, assault weapons have no legal purpose in our society. And the council wants to do something about their availability now.

The Post has continually said that the more effective approach would be to wait for action by the federal and regional governments. While I support measures such as the Brady bill and an all-out ban on assault weapons, these bills have been unable to make it through Congress. But in 1989, 24 counties in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Ohio joined the District in banning assault weapons within their borders.

Historically, the impetus for expanded gun controls has come from the state and local governments, not the federal government. In 1976 the District led the nation in banning handguns and assault weapons, a step now under consideration by the federal government with respect to assault weapons and already in place by a host of local jurisdictions. We cannot wait for the federal government to determine that assault weapon distributors and manufacturers may be held liable for their products. We will lead here as we have led before.

Nor have I overlooked approaching this problem from a regional stance. In 1981 I introduced a resolution before the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), urging the administration to beef up federal law governing weapon traces and purchases, and urging all governments in the region (read: Maryland and Virginia) to tighten up state gun registration and licensing provisions as the District had done. That resolution passed and was essentially reaffirmed by COG on Dec. 12. However, in the nine years since its original passage, little movement on the issue has occurred.

Citizens of the District are dying in its streets at a record pace for the fourth year in a row. Assault weapon manufacturers, whose products are responsible for a growing number of these deaths, profit from the sale and distribution of these products.

This bill would recover some of the losses suffered by victims and their families by providing them with a cause of action against manufacturers and distributors to cover the medical costs and other costs associated with the death or injury of a loved one. It would also force the industry to be more careful about what it produces and to whom it distributes its products.

It is the least the manufacturers and distributors can do. DAVID A. CLARKE Chairman Council of the District of Columbia Washington