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Newsom signs law allowing civil suits against gun dealers, manufacturers

The bill allows anyone to sue a gun dealer or manufacturer that sells or makes a gun already illegal under California law.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday signed one of two bills passed by the Legislature allowing private rights of action against gun dealers and manufacturers — strengthening the Golden State's already strict gun laws while taking a swipe at a similar law in Texas that goes after abortion.

Lawmakers passed two bills involving private rights of action this term — Assembly Bill 1594 and Senate Bill 1327 — though Newsom has so far only signed AB 1594. Both pieces of legislation were modeled after Texas Senate Bill 8 which allows individuals to sue anyone who performs or aids in the obtainment of an abortion.

“To the victims of gun violence and their families: California stands with you. The gun industry can no longer hide from the devastating harm their products cause,” Newsom said when signing the bill. “Our kids, families and communities deserve streets free of gun violence and gun makers must be held accountable for their role in this crisis. Nearly every industry is held liable when people are hurt or killed by their products — guns should be no different.”

AB 1594 would allows individuals, groups, communities, the California attorney general and others to file a civil suit against a gun dealer or manufacturer that sells or produces a firearm that creates an unreasonable risk of harm to public health and safety, mainly assault firearms and other firearms not allowed under state law. The law also bars guns from being marketed to youth.

The American Civil Liberties Union has voiced concern about both pieces of legislation and sent an open letter to the Legislature and Newsom arguing that private rights of action erodes the enforcement power of the state has in enforcing state laws and opens a Pandora's box of such lawsuits.

As part of the call to action by Newsom to stop gun violence, lawmakers considered a number of gun control-related measures — increasing background check scrutiny for young buyers, more surveillance at gun stores and ending gun shows at county fairgrounds.

At a recent roundtable hosted by U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, Democrat from California, the panelists said the time is now to move the focus to local issues and local solutions at combating everyday gun violence — homicides, suicides and domestic violence. They agreed the red flag laws and other gun control legislation have done an excellent job at helping bring down the rate of gun violence across California.

AB 1594 was introduced by Democratic Assemblymembers Phil Ting of San Francisco, Mike Gipson of Gardena and Chris Ward of San Diego. It passed both chambers along party lines with opposition from Republicans and gun enthusiasts.

“Gun violence is now the leading cause of death among kids and teens in the United States, surpassing car accidents. I see no better argument for stronger gun safety legislation. I thank the governor for signing AB 1594,” said Ting. “For far too long, the firearms industry has enjoyed federal immunity from civil lawsuits, providing them no incentive for them to follow our laws. Hitting their bottom line may finally compel them to step up to reduce gun violence by preventing illegal sales and theft.”

When he introduced the bill, Ting said he believes the legislation will survive legal challenges from gun rights groups as a similar piece of legislation in New York has survived challenges in the federal courts.

Law professors agree, noting the the laws as written do not take away a constitutional right. Instead, lawmakers took advantage of a loophole in the 2005 federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act which allows gun dealers and manufacturers to be sued in state court if they are in violation of state law.

The law takes effect on July 1, 2023.

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