California Lets Gun Makers Be Sued, The New Law Does

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law an effort to curb the availability of “abnormally hazardous” guns just three weeks after the Supreme Court struck down tough state controls on concealed handgun licenses.

Assemblyman Phil Ting’s (D-San Francisco) AB 1594 mandates new state safety, marketing, and sales rules for gun and ammunition makers, distributors, and dealers. The law, which is based on one in New York, gives the state, local governments, and anyone who has been victimized by gun violence the ability to sue businesses that do not adhere to these rules.

Tanya Schardt of the Brady gun-control advocacy group, co-sponsored the bill with California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said the goal is to impose the same kind of accountability on the weapons business that other manufacturers and merchants routinely face.

Schardt added, “Right now, the gun industry is exclusively protected from liability for unsafe, irresponsible, or negligent business conduct. To ensure that the firearms industry does not enjoy an advantage over other sectors, this is being done.

Assault weapons producers and dealers could be compelled to reign down illegal sales and promote safer products as a result of the legislation. Gun-rights activists will undoubtedly challenge it in court, arguing that it will cause manufacturers to stop doing business in California.

California Rifle and Pistol Assn. legislative director Rick Travis said his group has historically advocated for gun safety and keeping guns out of criminals’ hands. AB 1594, like most of California’s gun restriction measures, targets law-abiding citizens rather than criminals, although, according to Travis

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New State Standards

New “standards of conduct” for businesses in California that produce and sell firearms, ammunition, parts, and accessories are at the heart of the legislation. Companies are required to put “reasonable measures” in place to prevent illegal transactions, such as those to straw purchasers, gun traffickers, and those who pose a “substantial risk” of using the product unlawfully or to hurt themselves or others, under those criteria.

Controls of this nature are also necessary to prevent the theft or loss of firearms from wholesalers and retailers. “No further promotion of the illicit manufacturing, sale, ownership, marketing or use of a firearm-related product” is another requirement for producers and dealers.

A key objective of those limitations is to discourage manufacturers from supplying the small number of dealers who sell most firearms used in crimes, Schardt said. Ninety-nine percent of all firearms seized by law enforcement agencies may be traced to a small group of gun dealers and pawnbrokers, according to a BATFE report from the year 2000. Federal legislation prohibits the government from disclosing these figures to the public, so the most recent data isn’t available.)

Gun-related items that are “abnormally dangerous,” as defined by the law, are prohibited from being manufactured, marketed, imported, or sold in the United States. “Features that render the product most suitable for assaultive purposes,” rather than hunting or self-defense, are defined as “abnormally dangerous” under the law. Other examples include being designed or promoted in such a way that it “foreseeably” promotes conversion into automatic weapons or other illegal products, or being targeted at minors or others who are not legally allowed to own guns.

At Burbank Ammo & Guns, a sales representative shows a customer an AR-15-style gun.
As reported by the Associated Press’s Jae C. Hong
The sale of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines to adults and those under the age of 21 is already prohibited by state law, but those limits are now in peril. Although the “abnormally dangerous” threshold could fall foul of the same constitutional grounds, Schardt pointed out that California has long-barred firearms that do not exceed its design safety criteria.

It is hoped that the new regulation, which was signed into law this week, will encourage manufacturers and dealers to produce handguns with greater safety features, such as trigger locks and microstamping technology. She asserted that “gun safety can be improved.”

Finally, the bill places the gun industry under a slew of state consumer protection and competition regulations, including prohibitions on misleading or deceptive advertising or statements about the goods being sold.

The law will go into force on July 1st, 2023, as scheduled.

How The Law Would Be Enforced

This bill, AB 1594, is designed to be enforced through litigation, not just by the state attorney general’s office but also by attorneys for city and county governments and anyone “who has suffered harm as a result of the violation.” There are several examples of how families might sue manufacturers and sellers of military-style rifles, saying that the weapons are “abnormally hazardous,” such as when someone is shot by someone using one of these weapons.

The legislation specifies that the “criminal abuse” of the handgun would not necessarily preclude this claim. An injunction against the defendant as well as damages, attorney’s fees and costs may be awarded if the plaintiffs prevail in their lawsuit. The court may also grant “any other suitable remedies necessary to… rectify any injury caused by the behaviour.”

To answer Newsom’s proposal for a law allowing Californians to sue gun makers and dealers who bring assault weapons into the state, AB 1594 has been introduced. He was following the lead of a Texas legislation that allows residents to sue anyone who aids a woman in her attempt to have an abortion. Texas got around Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court’s decision that legalised abortion, by using bounties and citizen lawsuits.

In opposition to the bill, the National Rifle Association claimed that the state was using “frivolous litigation” to drive out gun manufacturers and dealers. A letter sent to parliamentarians stated that “the term reasonable controls’ is not defined as complying to a specific set of measures or rules,” and that the provisions were unnecessarily broad.

California Rifle and Pistol Association Executive Director Travis pointed out a 2005 federal legislation, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which prevents state and federal claims against gun makers and dealers for the unlawful use or misuse of their products by third parties.

“The possibility of imposing liability on an entire industry for harm that is solely caused by others is an abuse of the legal system, erodes public confidence in our Nation’s laws, threatens the diminution of a basic constitutional right and civil liberty, invites the disassembly and destabilisation of other industries and economic sectors lawfully competing in the free enterprise system of the United States, and constitutes a threat to the stability of our economy.”

For manufacturers and dealers who “knowingly violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product, and the violation was a proximate cause of the harm for which remedy is sought,” however, the PLCAA provides an exception for lawsuits against those parties. According to those who support it, the new state law falls inside that exception.

As Bonta pointed out in a letter to senators, the federal government has taken away Americans’ right to sue gun manufacturers and distributors for the harm their products cause when used illegally. Our efforts to restore these rights in California begin with this exemption.”

Supreme Court tossed out New York’s limits on concealed firearms licences last month, making plain its expansive understanding of 2nd Amendment rights. Several other state gun restrictions, including California’s limitation on high-capacity magazines, were called into question after the court’s judgment in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association vs. Bruen, Travis said.

A possibility of liability for gun manufacturers inhibits them from making lawful products available to Californians under AB 1594, Travis argued. As a result, gun owners could lose access to the parts they need to keep their guns in good working order, as well as the safety materials provided by gun makers.

Travis argued that while the state pursues gun manufacturers, people continue to lose their lives every weekend as a result of drunk driving accidents. “And yet, are we bringing legal action against the distilleries? Nope. Are we bringing a lawsuit against Ford? No.”

A comparable New York statute survived an initial legal challenge, according to Schardt. However, she anticipates AB 1594 to be challenged in the courts as well. There is an appeal pending in this case.

Bruen doesn’t apply to the new California law, she argued, because it doesn’t impair anyone’s right to bear arms. In addition, she argued, it’s implausible to claim that the new liability standards will reduce the availability of guns. She claimed that “people had no issue procuring their guns” before the PLCAA was passed in 2005.

Schwartz stated, “The reality is that manufacturers and dealers are acting appropriately the majority of the time” As a result, “victims should be able to achieve accountability” in the rare instances when they are not.

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