(CN) — Three California lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow private citizens to sue firearm manufacturers and sellers for damages caused by illegal gun use.
"Almost every industry in the United States can be held liable for what their products do," said Assembly member Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. "The gun industry is the one exception. What we are quite simply trying to do is to make sure gun manufacturers are held responsible for the harm they do on our streets."
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a number of cities and private citizens sued gun makers and dealers for their role in the illegal distribution and use of firearms that led to injuries or death. In 2005, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which gave gun manufacturers and dealers immunity from civil suits when crimes had been committed with their products. The bill passed both houses easily, with Democratic support, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush. Longtime NRA leader Wayne LaPierre called the law "the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in 20 years.”
Assembly Bill 1594 would essentially exploit a loophole in the federal law, which does not give gun makers and sellers immunity when state law is broken. Ting believes "those responsible for the manufacture, sale, distribution and marketing of firearms can be held accountable under state 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," he said in a statement.
The law aims to force the industry as a whole to adhere to California's gun laws, like the enforcement of background checks, maintaining of sales records, and requiring the sale of safety devices.
Ting said his bill is modeled after a similar one passed by the state of New York in July 2021. In December, a group of gun makers, including Beretta and Smith & Wesson, sued the Empire State to block the law.
Last month, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block a Texas law that allows private citizens to sue abortion providers, Governor Gavin Newsom called for a bill that would allow private citizens in California to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells assault weapons or "ghost gun" kits (guns without serial numbers that can be assembled at home). Ting said he has been working on his bill for six months but that it "gets at the spirit of what the governor was asking, that ordinary Californians have the ability to hold the gun industry accountable. It puts the power back in the hands of the people."
Assemblymember Mike Gipson, who co-wrote AB 1594, said he is working on a bill that would let private citizens sue over the use of assault weapons and ghost gun parts. He plans to introduce it later this week.
"If we can sue car dealers, if we can sue lawyers for malpractice, why should the people of the state of California not have the ability to sue a gun manufacturer?" Gipson asked.
In 2020, Gipson's 32-year-old son Devon was shot in South Los Angeles along with three others, including Devon's fiancée. Both recovered from their injuries but Gary Moody, 55, was killed..
"This is absolutely personal to me," said Gipson. "This is about our babies."
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