California Moves a Step Closer to Allowing Private Citizens To File Civil Lawsuits Against Gun Industry

For immediate release:

On the heels of the Texas mass shooting in which 19 elementary children died, the California State Assembly today passed AB 1594 by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) to hold the gun industry more accountable. It empowers California citizens, the state Attorney General and local governments to sue manufacturers and sellers of firearms for the harm caused by their products when the state’s strict gun laws aren’t followed. The possibility of civil litigation aims to push the gun industry to be more responsible and improve their practices, as the number of mass shootings in the United States surpasses 200 this year.

“I’m sick and tired of hearing about a mass shooting nearly every day. We must make our communities safer. It’s not fair that almost every industry in the United States can be held liable for what their products do, yet the gun industry is exempt from that, providing no incentive to follow our laws. Hitting their bottom line may finally compel them to take every step possible to prevent illegal sales and theft of firearms to reduce gun violence,” said Assemblymember Ting.

Enacted in 2005, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) shields gun producers and dealers from civil liability when their products are used to commit crimes. There’s an exception to the federal statute, however, if those companies and sellers break state laws, including marketing illegal use of firearms. Using those grounds, Ting believes those responsible for the manufacturing, sale, distribution and marketing of firearms can be held accountable under California law when such activities create a public nuisance – defined as contributing to conditions that endanger the health or safety of others or engaging in unfair business practices.

“No industry should be immune from liability when it fails to fulfill its responsibility to protect the public, but especially not an industry that so directly contributes to the deaths of thousands of Americans every year,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “In 2005, the federal government stripped Americans of the right to hold gun manufacturers and distributors accountable for the damage their conduct causes when they ignore the warning signs and their products are used to wreak havoc — from everyday gun violence that strikes at the core of our cities to the hate-fueled mass shootings that have befallen us over these last few weeks. AB 1594 gives these rights back to Californians and requires the gun industry to act like every other industry in America, taking reasonable steps to ensure their products do not harm the public. If the gun industry ignores their responsibility, this bill gives victims, their families, and the state of California a pathway for holding the firearm industry financially responsible. We thank the assembly for moving this bill forward.”

The Sandy Hook families successfully sued Remington, resulting in a $73 million settlement earlier this year. Their lawsuit claimed the manufacturer’s marketing of the AR-15-style rifle appealed to troubled men like the shooter, thereby violating Connecticut consumer law. The outcome shows legal action at the state level is possible despite the federal shield. And just this week, a judge dismissed the case challenging a New York law, which is similar to AB 1594, further validating that Ting’s proposal is on solid legal ground.

The gun industry’s responsibilities are already spelled out in California law, including rigorous background checks, prevention of straw purchases, requirement to sell safety devices with each firearm and a ban on the sale or manufacturing of assault weapons. Violations of those statutes could be a basis for a lawsuit when someone is killed or injured.

“AB 1594 will help to ensure that victims of gun violence in California will no longer be denied their day in court because of the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. This law will create real accountability and incentives for the gun industry to reform its practices and prevent gun violence. Brady thanks Assemblymember Ting for introducing and stewarding this important bill and urges the State Senate to follow suit immediately,” said Loren Lieb, Brady California Member and Board Chair of Women Against Gun Violence. She was also a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the gun industry when PLCAA invalidated it.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.