Sacramento – Just days after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing concealed weapons at most places, the California State Legislature sent AB 1594 by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) to the Governor after today’s approval from the State Senate. The bill empowers California residents, the state Attorney General, and local governments to sue firearm manufacturers and retailers for the harm their products cause when they don’t follow the state’s strict gun laws. The threat of civil litigation aims to push the gun industry to be more responsible and improve their practices. There have been at least 278 mass shootings in the United States this year through mid-June, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
“Given last week’s Bruen decision, we must make our communities safer with stronger gun legislation. The firearms industry has enjoyed federal immunity from civil lawsuits for far too long, providing them no incentive for them to follow our laws. Hitting their bottom line may finally compel them to take every step possible to prevent illegal sales and theft to reduce gun violence,” said Assemblymember Ting. “I appreciate the state Legislature acting quickly to approve AB 1594 in the last month.”
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. Using those grounds, Ting believes those responsible for the manufacturing, sale, distribution and illegal 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.
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 a month ago, 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.
“California continues to lead the nation in enacting comprehensive gun violence prevention reforms, ensuring 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 to create real incentives for the gun industry to reform its practices. Brady thanks Assemblymember Ting and Attorney General Bonta for their leadership on this important legislation,” said Kris Brown, President of Brady.
AB 1594 is among the package of gun bills the Governor asked to be expedited early this year. He has twelve days to act on any legislation sent to him. If signed, it would take effect July 1, 2023.
Ting has successfully championed other gun safety legislation, including the 2019 expansion of California’s Gun Violence Restraining Orders (AB 61) and a 2013 law requiring a safety device with every firearm sale (AB 231).