Three weeks after the US Supreme Court struck down strict state controls on concealed weapons licenses, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation to limit the availability of “unusually dangerous” weapons in the state.
The law, AB 1594 by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), requires manufacturers, distributors and dealers of guns and ammunition to adhere to new federal standards for the safety, marketing and sale of their products. Modeled after a similar law in New York, the measure empowers the state to sue local governments and individuals harmed by gun violence against companies that violate these standards.
It’s about imposing the same kind of liability on the gun industry that other manufacturers and retailers routinely face, said Tanya Schardt of the Brady gun control advocacy group, which co-sponsored the bill with California Atty. General Rob Bonta.
“At the moment, the arms industry is exclusively excluded from liability for dangerous, irresponsible or negligent business practices,” said Schardt. “This just ensures that the arms industry isn’t as isolated as any other industry isn’t.”
The measure could create a barrier to at least some types of offensive weapons in the state and pressure manufacturers and retailers to curb illicit sales and promote safer products. But it’s certain to be challenged in court by gun rights advocates who say it would force manufacturers to go out of business in California.
Rick Travis, legislative director of the California Rifle and Pistol Assn., said his group is a longtime advocate for gun safety and getting guns out of the hands of criminals. But AB 1594, like the vast majority of California gun control efforts, is about law-abiding people, not criminals, Travis said.
Here’s a summary of what the law requires, along with arguments for and against.
New government standards
At the heart of the law are new “standards of conduct” for companies that manufacture and sell guns, ammunition, parts and accessories in California. These standards require companies to put in place “reasonable controls” to protect against abusive sales, e.g. E.g. straw buyers, arms dealers and people who pose a “significant risk” of using the product unlawfully or causing harm to themselves or others.
Such controls are also required to prevent the loss or theft of gun-related products from wholesalers and retailers. Additionally, manufacturers and dealers must not “otherwise encourage the unlawful manufacture, sale, possession, marketing, or use of any firearm-related product.”
The main goal of these regulations, Schardt said, is to stop manufacturers from supplying the fraction of dealers responsible for selling the vast majority of guns used in crime. According to a 2000 study by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, nearly 90% of firearms seized by law enforcement officers were traced to 7% of gun dealers and pawnbrokers. (More recent data is not available due to a 2003 federal law prohibiting federal agencies from sharing these statistics with the public.)
Other laws prohibit the manufacture, marketing, importation, or sale of firearm products that are “unusually dangerous”; that is, deadly beyond their “inherent ability to cause injury or fatal damage”. The measure defines “abnormally dangerous” as “features that make the product most suitable for offensive purposes” rather than hunting or self-defense; designed or marketed in a way that “predictably” encourages conversion into automatic weapons or other illicit products; or are designed and promoted in a manner aimed at minors or persons who are legally disqualified from owning firearms.
The state already bans the sale of assault weapons to adults and those under the age of 21, as well as the sale of high-capacity magazines, but these restrictions are in legal jeopardy. The “abnormally dangerous” standard might conflict with the same constitutional arguments, but Schardt noted that California has long banned handguns that don’t meet its design safety standards.
The new law, she said, will give manufacturers and dealers an incentive to switch to firearms with more safety features, such as B. Trigger locks to prevent accidental firing and micro-stamping technology to identify weapons used in crime. “There are ways to make guns safer,” she said.
Finally, the law brings the gun industry under a number of state consumer protection and competition laws, including strict rules against false and misleading advertising or misleading claims about the product being sold.
The law is scheduled to come into force on July 1, 2023.
How the law would be enforced
AB 1594 is intended to be enforced through lawsuits – not only by the Attorney General, but also by city and county government attorneys and by anyone “who has suffered harm as a result of the violation.” For example, the family of a person who was shot by a person with a military rifle could sue the manufacturer and seller of the gun, claiming it is “abnormally dangerous.”
That claim would not necessarily be blocked by the “criminal misuse” of the firearm, the law states. If the plaintiffs win their case, a court could issue an injunction against the defendant, awarding damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and “any other reasonable relief necessary to repair … the harm caused by the conduct.”
AB 1594 is responding to Newsom’s call for a measure that would allow ordinary Californians to sue gun manufacturers and dealers who bring assault weapons into the state. The governor took a page from a Texas law that encourages residents there to sue people who help a woman get an abortion. The use of bounties and civil lawsuits was Texas’ way of sidestepping Roe vs. Wade, a decision the Supreme Court has since overturned.
The National Rifle Assn. opposed AB 1594 as it moved through the legislature, arguing that the state was attempting to oust gun manufacturers and dealers with “frivolous litigation.” It also argued that the provisions were too vague, saying in a letter to lawmakers: “The term ‘reasonable controls’ is not defined as compliance with any particular set of measures or regulations.”
Travis of the California Rifle and Pistol Assn. As previously mentioned, a 2005 federal law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, prohibits state and federal lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers for unlawful use or abuse of their products by a third party.
He quoted this passage from the PLCAA findings: “The ability to hold an entire industry liable for damages caused solely by others is an abuse of the legal system, undermines public confidence in our nation’s laws, and threatens the… Weakening of a fundamental constitutional right and civil liberties, inviting the dismantling and destabilization of other industries and economic sectors that legitimately compete in free enterprise in the United States, and imposing an undue burden on United States interstate and foreign trade.”
However, the PLCAA includes an exception for claims against manufacturers and distributors who “knowingly violated any state or federal law that applies to the sale or marketing of the product and the violation was a proximate cause of the harm for which relief is sought.” becomes”. Supporters of the new state law say the liability it imposes fits within that exception.
“In 2005, the federal government stripped Americans of the right to hold gun manufacturers and distributors accountable for the harm their conduct causes when their products are used unlawfully — leaving only a narrow exception to such lawsuits,” Bonta wrote to the legislature. “[U]When you sign this exception, we begin restoring those rights in California.”
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, made clear its dovish view of Second Amendment rights when it lifted New York’s restrictions on concealed gun licenses last month. After the decision in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn. v. Bruen, the court asked the appellate courts to reconsider a number of other state gun laws, including California’s restriction on high-capacity magazines, Travis said.
AB 1594 interferes with Second Amendment rights, Travis said, because the threat of liability deters gun manufacturers from providing legal products to Californians. Worse, he said gun owners could lose access to the parts they need to get safe guns and the safety materials that gun manufacturers offer.
As the state continues to prosecute gun manufacturers, Travis says, people die in accidents caused by drunk drivers every weekend. “And we’re still suing the spirits manufacturers? nope Are we suing Ford? No.”
Schardt said she expects AB 1594 to be challenged in court, but noted that a similar law in New York survived an initial court challenge. This case is being appealed.
The Bruen Supreme Court decision, she claimed, does not apply to the new California law because the law does not affect anyone’s ability to carry a gun. Also, she said, it is not credible to suggest that guns will become less available as a result of the new liability rules. The PLCAA didn’t go into effect until 2005, she said, and “before that, people didn’t have a problem getting their guns.”
“The reality is that manufacturers and retailers mostly act responsibly,” said Schardt. “We know there’s a small period of time when they’re not,” and then “victims should be able to be held accountable.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-13/california-law-allows-lawsuits-against-gun-makers-and-dealers California opens the door to suing gun makers and dealers