State Watch

California legislators introduce bill to allow lawsuits against gun manufacturers

Three California lawmakers will introduce legislation to allow local governments and victims of gun violence to bring civil lawsuits against gun manufacturers whose products are used in the commission of crimes, opening a new front in the battle over gun safety legislation.

The legislators say they will use a loophole in a 2005 federal law that shields gun manufacturers and dealers from civil liability. That law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, contains an exception when those companies and sellers break state law.

“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,” Assemblyman Phil Ting (D) said in a statement announcing the legislation. “Financial repercussions may finally push them to be more responsible by improving their practices and adhering to California’s strict gun laws.”

Ting’s office said the bill would focus on existing California laws that require gun manufacturers and sellers to conduct background checks and testing of those who seek to purchase firearms; ban sales of assault weapons and parts to make such weapons; implement safeguards against straw purchases and theft; and require the sales of firearm safety devices along with newly purchased guns.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) and the Brady Campaign, a gun safety organization, are backing the bill.

The measure is part of a broader push, spearheaded by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), to hold the gun industry accountable for shootings through civil lawsuits. In December, Newsom called for legislation modeled on a Texas law that allows private citizens to sue abortion providers in an effort to get around a federal ban on states blocking abortion access. 

Gun rights organizations have promised legal action against the new measures, which they say violate Second Amendment rights of individual firearm owners. 

“Law-abiding gun owners and businesses are not the cause of criminal misuse of firearms. Yet Newsom and other anti-gun politicians seem to believe the threat of frivolous lawsuits will somehow address their own failures,” the California Rifle and Pistol Association said in a statement after Newsom’s December remarks.

The California proposal, backed by Ting and Assemblymen Chris Ward (D) and Mike Gipson (D), is modeled on a law passed in New York last year.

It is likely to be only one of several measures targeting gun manufacturers in this year’s legislative session, which kicked off this week in Sacramento.

Gipson, who chairs the Assembly’s Democratic Caucus and who represents part of the Los Angeles area, said in December he would introduce a bill to bar so-called ghost guns and assault weapons. Gipson said his bill, which is also still being crafted, would allow private citizens to sue manufacturers of those products.

“I will not rest until we put an end to senseless gun violence,” Gipson said Tuesday. “Part of the solution is focused on how particular guns are manufactured and distributed in California.” 

Tags California Firearms Gavin Newsom Gun control gun laws Guns

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