When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation that allows for any individual to bring a civil suit against an abortion provider who conducts an abortion more than six weeks into a pregnancy, some legal scholars (including conservatives) warned that Democrats could use the same rationale to impose a backdoor ban on firearms. Now an Illinois Democrat is proposing to do just that.
Chicago Democrat Margaret Croke has filed the “Firearms Dealer and Importer Liability Act,” which she’s also calling the “Protecting Heartbeats Act” in a nod to the Texas anti-abortion bill. Croke’s bill would allow virtually anyone to sue gun manufacturers and retailers anytime one is used in a violent crime.
Croke’s legislation would allow Illinois residents to bring a civil suit against the manufacturer, importer or dealer of a firearm if they, or a loved one, are hurt or killed as a result of the unlawful discharge of a gun in the state.
Illegal sales and gun transfers linked to unlawful bodily harm would be targeted under Croke’s legislation. A gun linked to one unlawful injury, would mean that seller could only be sued once, but if the gun is linked to 20 or more shootings, that could mean 20 or more suits against the seller, Croke said.
The lawmaker pointed to news reports on illegal guns being used in shootings in the city as part of her push to file the legislation.
“I don’t see a lot of deterrence when it comes to the straw dealers and the illegal transfer of guns right now,” Croke said. “I see a lot of penalties in the criminal justice system, which I agree with … but I don’t see anything deterring the sale of illegal guns, and I also think Chicago has the opportunity to be a leader on this. … We have an opportunity to lead, for other states to copy this legislation and create a safer environment, safer neighborhoods for our kids and for our families.”
Croke really needs some better talking points, because as she acknowledges, there are already criminal penalties for those who engage in a straw purchase or illegal sale of a gun. This isn’t about stopping illegal gun sales. It’s about stopping legal gun ownership, just as the Texas anti-abortion legislation is meant to stop abortions from taking place.
At least most of the foes of abortion are honest enough to admit that’s the goal of the new law in Texas. Croke, on the other hand, is billing her response to the Texas law as some sort of innovative crimefighting tool. She’s also wrong about pioneering this idea, because former New York governor Andrew Cuomo already signed a similar bill before he resigned from office in disgrace earlier this year. State Senator Zellnor Myrie’s legislation changed the state’s public nuisance laws to include the sale and marketing of firearms with the intent of opening up the civil courts to more lawsuits against the firearms industry.
Under Myrie’s legislation, if a gun is legally purchased, but subsequently stolen and used in a crime, the firearms manufacturer, distributor, and retailer could all be sued and held financially responsible for the actions of a criminal. As the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s general counsel and senior vice president Larry Keane told Bearing Arms a few weeks ago, the measure poses an existential threat to the firearms industry.
While Croke is talking up the idea that civil suits could be filed in the case of an illegal transfer, the bill she’s describing sounds like it would apply to the maker or seller of any gun that was used in a crime, even if had been legally sold to a lawful gun owner who later had that gun stolen. Or take the case of a Wisconsin gun store that was the victim of thieves. One Glock that was stolen has been linked to 27 separate shootings in the city, and if Croke had her way the gun maker and the gun store would be facing civil litigation for the actions of criminals.
In that sense, both the New York law and the bill proposed by Croke go even further than the Texas abortion law. Under the bill signed by Abbott, abortions can still be performed up to six weeks into a pregnancy without fear of litigation, while abortion providers who operate outside the state of Texas are also immune to the law’s effects. Not so with the anti-gun legislation. Even a legal gun sale would be subject to a civil lawsuit, and out-of-state gun shops and gun makers could be hauled into an Illinois court even if the firearm in question was illegally brought into the state.
Croke’s bill hasn’t even officially been introduced yet, so it has a long way to go before it potentially becomes law. Still, with Democrats around the country energized and looking to fight back against the new law in Texas, don’t be surprised if many of Croke’s colleagues in the Illinois legislature get behind her proposal in the weeks and months ahead.