In a move to hold firearms manufacturers and retailers more accountable in California, Governor Newsom signed AB 1594 by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). The bill empowers residents, the state Attorney General, and local governments to sue the gun industry for the harm their products cause when they don’t follow our state’s strict gun laws. The threat of civil litigation aims to push the gun industry to be more responsible and improve their practices.
“Gun violence is now the leading cause of death among kids and teens in the United States, surpassing car accidents. I see no better argument for stronger gun safety legislation. I thank the Governor for signing AB 1594,” said Assemblymember Ting. “For far too long, the firearms industry has enjoyed federal immunity from civil lawsuits, providing them no incentive for them to follow our laws. Hitting their bottom line may finally compel them to step up to reduce gun violence by preventing illegal sales and theft.”
There have been more than 300 mass shootings in the United States so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Highland Park, Buffalo, Uvalde and the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling on concealed carry motivated California leaders to act swiftly. AB 1594 takes effect July 1, 2023.
While the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) enacted in 2005 shields gun producers and dealers from civil liability when their products are used to commit crimes, there’s an exception to the federal statute, 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. A federal court upheld a similar New York law in May.
“There have been more mass shootings in our nation than days in the year, and yet many members of the gun industry continue to use a combination of bullying, exploitation, and fear to rack up profits from the very tools used in these shootings,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “There is no reason that the gun industry should be the only industry exempt from responsibility for the harm that its products cause, especially when its products are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans each year. In California, we refuse to settle with thoughts and prayers as innocent lives are lost – we demand and will deliver urgent action now. I am grateful for the signing of AB 1594, which will allow Californians to hold the gun industry accountable for the harm caused by its products. In California, we won’t let this industry off the hook.”
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.
“This is a historic day; California’s action will allow the victims of gun violence in California to hold the gun industry accountable for its role in their pain and suffering. This law will create a powerful incentive for the industry to change its practices and promote public safety and put the interests of the people over profits. Brady thanks Assemblymember Ting and Attorney General Bonta for their leadership on this important legislation and Gov. Newsom for signing this historic bill,” said Kris Brown, President of Brady.
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 judge recently 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.
AB 1594 is among the package of gun bills the Governor asked to be expedited early this year. 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).