Some Democratic California lawmakers want to make it easier for people to sue gun companies for liability in shootings that cause injuries or deaths, a move advocates said is aimed at getting around a U.S. law that prevents such lawsuits and allows the industry to act recklessly.
But critics call the bill, which is modeled after a New York law passed last year, an illegal overreach. They say its true purpose was to force gun manufacturers out of business.
In general, when someone is injured or killed by gunfire, the victim’s or their family’s right to hold the gun manufacturer or dealer accountable by suing them and forcing them to pay damages is extremely difficult. Most of these types of litigation are barred by federal law, which advocacy groups claim is unique to the guns industry.
However, some forms of liability cases are permitted under US law, such as when gun manufacturers violate state or local regulations surrounding the sale and marketing of their products. Last year, New York passed a first-of-its-kind law labeling such offenses a “public nuisance,” exposing gun manufacturers to legal action.
Almost every industry in the U.S. is held liable for what their products do. The gun industry is the one exception, Ting said. Financial repercussions may encourage the firearms industry and dealers to be more responsible.
The bill is co-authored by Assembly members Chris Ward of San Diego and Mike Gipson of Carson. Gipson’s son, his son’s fiancé and another man were shot in Los Angeles in April 2020. Gipson’s son and fiancé survived. But the other man, Gary Patrick Moody, was killed.
This is absolutely personal to me, said Gipson, a former police officer.
Gun rights groups denounced the bill, titled AB 1594, as a smokescreen for yet another attempt by California progressives to outlaw guns. It’s like suing Gov. Gavin Newsom because he owns a winery and people have abused his products by drinking and driving, according to Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California.
He can’t ban guns, but he’s going to try to bankrupt lawful firearms-related businesses, Paredes said.
California has some of the strictest gun rules in the country, including a long-standing prohibition on most assault weapons. A federal judge overturned California’s assault weapons ban last year, triggering a lengthy appeals process.
Angry over the move, Newsom requested the state Legislature last month to create a bill allowing residents to sue to enforce the state’s assault weapons ban. The concept is comparable to a Texas legislation that prohibits most abortions but relies on private persons to enforce the law by prosecuting offenders.
That is not something that the bill would allow. Rather, Ting stated that it would allow people and governments to sue gun manufacturers and dealers for liability in shooting deaths and injuries.
As it progresses through the legislative process, the law will very certainly be modified multiple times.
It’s unclear what these potential lawsuits against gun makers could include. The bill filed in the state Legislature is just one sentence long, declaring gun manufacturers have created a public nuisance if their failure to follow state and local gun laws result in injury or death. The bill will likely be changed several times as it moves through the legislative process.
Tanya Schardt, senior counsel for gun control group the Brady Campaign, said lawsuits could include suing gun dealers who knowingly sell weapons to people who then sell them illegally to others who are not allowed to own them.
Or it could mean suing a gun manufacturer that supplies dealers they know are selling guns used in crimes.
The goal is to “create an environment where the gun industry is held accountable,” Schardt said.
Chuck Michel, a civil rights attorney and president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, said that goal will likely backfire by making it harder for law-abiding citizens to have guns for self-defense.
As a matter of policy, to try and shift the blame for the criminal misuse of a lawful product that is used far more often to save lives and protect lives than to take them is a terrible idea, he said.