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. The specific language of the bill reads as “This bill would specify that a gun industry member has created or maintained a public nuisance, as defined, if their failure to follow federal, state, or local law caused injury or death or if the gun industry member engaged in unfair business practices.”
Ting, Ward, and Gipson said that the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a law that protects gun makers and dealers from liability when weapons are used to kill or injure someone, fails to protects them when they break state law. Armed with a loophole, the three Assemblymen wrote the bill for several different reasons.
One major reason is to 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.
The Assemblymen also pushed for greater public safety with the bill, with the hope that greater legal and financial pressure will have gun makers and dealers follow California firearms laws more closely and lead to a reduction in crime.
“We must make our communities safer. Almost every industry in the United States can be held liable for what their products do, but the gun industry is not held to the same standard,” said Assemblyman Ting on Tuesday. “Financial repercussions may finally push them to be more responsible by improving their practices and adhering to California’s strict gun laws.”
The bill is also fighting against ramped up legal pressure by gun rights organizations against California laws. To the embarrassment of many lawmakers, California gun laws were severely challenged by the courts last year, with a federal judge even overturning the state’s 32-year-old ban on assault weapons in June, with it later being halted due to a stay from an Appeals judge while they decide on it.
“A lot of California legislators and higher lawmakers are frustrated as legal challenges against their gun laws keep coming up almost endlessly,” Los Angeles injury lawyer Marco Ruiz told the Globe on Wednesday. “One is finally decided by the courts and three others seem to spring up. And worse yet, they are starting to win some now, forcing the state to appeal. They’re hoping with AB 1594 and others similar to Newsom’s proposal that a new precedent will come up and that they’ll be beleaguered by so many lawsuits that they’ll play ball, or at the very least put the burden more on guns rights organizations. The state wants to win the war over firearms, and passing this, and it coming through the courts unscathed, would be a big part of it.”
Finally, the bill is personal to Assemblyman Gibson, whose son and future daughter-in-law were injured in a Los Angeles shooting in 2020. Gipson even said of the bill on Tuesday that “This is absolutely personal to me. I will not rest until we put an end to senseless gun violence. Part of the solution is focused on how particular guns are manufactured and distributed in California.”
Support, opposition against AB 1594
The bill received much political support on Tuesday and Wednesday with both Attorney General Rob Bonta and the Brady Campaign getting behind the bill.
Gunmakers, dealers, and guns rights organizations quickly announced opposition to AB 1594, arguing that the vast majority of gun owners and businesses who follow the law would be unduly punished as a result of the bill being passed. Many have already promised lawsuits if the law is passed, with some hoping to petition members of Congress to amend the Lawful Commerce law to remove the state law loophole, thus invalidating any attempt to get past it like AB 1594.
“Law-abiding gun owners and businesses are not the cause of criminal misuse of firearms,” said the California Rifle and Pistol Association last year to Governor Newsom’s plan. “Yet Newsom and other anti-gun politicians seem to believe the threat of frivolous lawsuits will somehow address their own failures.”
In a new statement on Tuesday, a representative for the group added “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.”
Those in law also said that passing the law could lead to a legal minefield of issues.
“These Assembly members have no idea just what they are doing,” attorney Ruiz added. “Good lawyers could easily argue against this law in court. Should someone be able to sue a restaurant for giving someone a heart attack? Should someone sue a knife maker for the same reasons as AB 1594? The list can go on. It’s not even funny how bogged down this law will be for years under the legal system. Every side will fight hard. There will be stays. Appeals. Arguments over every bit of language. This has to be airtight to succeed and it is far from airtight.”
“We’re in for a bumpy ride on this one, and we haven’t even gotten to committee votes yet. We haven’t gotten final legal word on the New York law that could really change the course of this one. This is far from a done deal.”
AB 1594 is expected to be heard in committees in the coming months.
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