A motley crew of California Democrats have unveiled legislation empowering local governments and private citizens to sue gun makers and sellers and hold them responsible for the actions of criminals, though they say their efforts were underway long before Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call to tweak Texas’ anti-abortion law into a vehicle to sue the firearms industry into oblivion.
“I think this gets at the spirit of what the governor was asking, which is really that ordinary Californians really have the ability to hold the gun industry accountable,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco and chair of the Assembly Budget Committee. Assembly Bill 1594, authored by Ting and fellow Democratic Assemblymen Chris Ward and Mike Gipson, would allow local governments and survivors of gun violence to pursue legal action in California courts against irresponsible, reckless or negligent gun manufacturers, importers and dealers.
“Almost every industry in the US is held liable for what their products do,” Ting said. “If you have a detective toy, if your car has a problem, those manufacturers are held responsible for what happens and what their products do. The gun industry is the one exception.”
That’s an outright falsehood on the part of Ting. The federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, approved on a bipartisan basis in 2005, doesn’t preclude lawsuits over defective products, breach of contract, or criminal misconduct on the part of firearms makers, distributers, or retailers. If there’s a design flaw in a firearm, individuals can sue gun companies. The PLCAA simply states that manufacturers, distributors, and retailers cannot be held liable for the misuse of their products by criminals.
More broadly, despite Ting’s claims, nowhere does the law smile on attempts to hold, say, car makers responsible for the actions of drunk drivers or even those who recklessly but soberly speed down city streets in excess of 100 miles per hour. But that’s exactly what he and his colleagues are hoping to do with AB 1594 and the firearms industry; hold them accountable for the actions of criminals, even while many of Ting’s fellow Democrats in Sacramento are working to reduce the legal consequences for the actual individuals who use a gun in the commission of a violent crime.
AB 1509, which would have removed sentencing enhancements for using a firearm in a crime of violence, didn’t make it out of committee last year, but supporters have already vowed to try again this year, which means that Democrats could very well pass new laws giving more leniency to someone who steals a firearm from a private home and uses it in an armed robbery while imposing liability on the gun maker and gun store owner who originally sold the firearm to a legal buyer.
Ting and co-horts aren’t trying to improve public safety here. They’re trying to destroy the exercise of a constitutionally protected right, one lawsuit at a time. The good news is that the National Shooting Sports Foundation and more than a dozen companies within the industry have launched a lawsuit against a nearly identical law approved in New York last year, and if California Democrats do impose their attempted end-run around the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, it’s likely to face a similar challenge.
The bad news is that there’s no guarantee the Supreme Court will ultimately hear the lawsuit dealing with the New York statute, and in the meantime the gun control lobby is busy around the country doing what it can to undermine the PLCAA at every turn. Combine their push to ban home-built guns with their desire to bankrupt the firearms industry, and it’s abundantly clear that anti-gun activists are trying to create conditions where you might possess the right to keep and bear arms, but don’t have any real way to do so, at least not without breaking the law.