(BCN) — Californians can soon sue gun manufacturers if their products cause harm or threaten communal safety, thanks to a bill signed Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Assembly Bill 1594, which will take effect in July 2023, entitles gun violence survivors, the state attorney general and state and local governments to pursue civil litigation against the gun industry if the sale, distribution or marketing of their firearms violates state law. Newsom stated that almost every industry is held legally liable if their products hurt or kill others, and guns should be no exception.
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His hope is to push gun manufacturers to carry out better practices with an “industry standard of conduct.” “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 in a statement. “Our kids, families and communities deserve streets free of gun violence and gun makers must be held accountable for their role in this crisis.”
The bill states that companies can be sued if they manufacture, sell and distribute firearms that are “abnormally dangerous” and likely to cause a risk to public safety — for example, guns that are designed for “assaultive purposes” rather than self-defense or hunting, have a foreseeable conversion into the illegal firearm marketplace or are targeted to minors or others who are legally prohibited from buying a weapon.
Due to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act enacted in 2005, gun manufacturers have had federal immunity from civil lawsuits when their guns are used for crime. There is an exception, which is when companies violate state regulations.
The bill, authored by Assemblymembers Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, Mike Gipson, D-Carson, and Chris Ward, D-San Diego, draws from this exception. Ting said California law already lists out the gun industry’s responsibilities, like background checks, selling safety devices and preventing straw purchases — so if someone is killed, violations of these standards could be used as a foundation of a lawsuit.
“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,” Ting said in a statement.
Ting and the other bill authors used cases seen around the country to justify the proposal’s legal validity; for example, when families from the Sandy Hook school shooting successfully sued Remington earlier this year after arguing their marketing of their AR-15-style rifle violated Connecticut state law.
In response to recent mass shootings in Highland Park, Illinois; Buffalo, New York; and Uvalde, Texas; California leaders have promised to strengthen the state’s gun laws, which are already considered the strongest in the nation. AB 1594 was one of the numerous gun bills Newsom requested to expedite earlier this year.
Last month, Newsom also allocated $156 million to fund gun violence prevention programs in 79 cities and non-profit organizations, which stems from a larger violence prevention grant program that began in 2017. And just Monday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta backed a new federal rule to crack down on ghost guns.
Bonta said the gun industry continues to use “bullying, exploitation and fear” to make profit from the mass shootings their products are used in. “In California, we refuse to settle with thoughts and prayers as innocent lives are lost — we demand and will deliver urgent action, now,” Bonta said in a statement.
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