A bill to make it easier for local governments and gun violence victims to sue gun makers was introduced in the Assembly on Tuesday.
Assembly Bill 1594, authored by Assemblymen Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), Chris Ward (D-San Diego) and Mike Gipson (D-Carson), closely follows a New York law in allowing victims of gun violence and governments to sue gun manufacturers or dealers for liability when firearms are used in incidents of shooting deaths or injuries. Specifically, AB 1594, also known as the Firearm Industry Responsibility Act, would require those in the firearm industry to enforce “reasonable controls” and take “reasonable precautions” to ensure that they are not sold or distributed to a downstream retailer or distributor who fails to establish or implement “reasonable controls”.
Those in the firearm industry would also, under the proposed law, be prohibited from manufacturing, marketing, importing, offering for wholesale, or offering for retail sale a firearm-related product that is likely to create a substantial and unreasonable risk of harm to public health and safety.
Most critically however, starting in July 2023, the bill would authorize those hurt by firearms, the Attorney General, and City and County Attorney Generals to sue those in the firearm industry if they violate any new laws listed in AB 1594 or break laws pertaining to unfair competition, false advertising, or unfair deceptive acts or practices. Under the bill, courts would also be authorized to determine if the firearm industry has engaged in the prohibited conduct to award various relief, including injunctive relief, damages, and attorney’s fees and costs.
The bill would follow Governor Gavin Newsom’s push to model a law on the recent Texas abortion law to allow private citizens to sue gun manufacturers. Despite Newsom’s idea clearly breaking federal law, AB 1594 would work within the loophole to avoid any federal problems. In turn, AB 1594 would bypass the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which directly prohibits civil liability against gun manufacturers and others in the firearm industry.
While the bill had had some traction since being introduced in January, interest in AB 1594 and other gun control bills picked up after the Sacramento shooting earlier this month. As a result, AB 1594 was quickly amended and re-referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee in time for the Committee meeting on Tuesday.
AB 1594 boosted in prominence by recent Sacramento shooting
With momentum on their side, Assemblyman Ting and other bill supporters emphasized violence caused by the weapons and giving individuals the power to hold the firearm industry accountable.
“We think it provides a really good opportunity to put the power back in the hands of individuals who are individual victims of gun violence, and really, what we hope is by holding this industry accountable, that they will be much more thoughtful about how they sell their weapons,” said Assemblyman Ting on Tuesday. “I think it’s unfair that the toy industry has a lot more liability than the gun industry.”
Opponents of the bill quickly countered back during the Committee meeting that, despite amendments made to counter the broadness of the original January bill draft, AB 1594 was still too broad and that laws should instead focus on the operator of the gun instead of those in the firearm industry.
“Firearms are inherently safe. They are an adamant tool. It is the operator that can sometimes be unsafe or negligent with malicious criminal intent. We should instead focus our time on those who chose to use firearms in the commission of a violent crime,” said Roy Griffith of the California Rifle and Pistol Association. “This is another misguided bill that seeks to squash and discriminate against the rights of those who engage in lawful commerce to restrict law-abiding citizens’ access to firearms instead of holding accountable those who misuse firearms.”
Despite the opposition, the bill passed 7-2, with only Assemblymen Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) and Jordan Cunningham (R-Paso Robles) voting against it.
“Those who are for this bill really need to be careful about how they proceed with this one,” noted Los Angeles injury lawyer Marco Ruiz to the Globe on Wednesday. “This is a law that will be easily challenged in court. In fact, that may be what they are trying to do here. But if this is passed, there will be conflicting federal and state law. And it’s not like cannabis or other things that are in more or less a gray area. So, if passed or failed, it will not be the last time you will have heard of it.”
AB 1594 is to be heard next in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in the coming weeks.