California Approves Bill Setting Stage for Bunk Lawsuits Against Gun Industry
In a move that could see the American gun industry smothered by a wave of litigation, California lawmakers this week sent a controversial gun bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom for signature.
California AB-1594 passed the state Senate 26-9 on Monday after a 50-20 approval in the state Assembly last month. The bill was introduced at Newsom's urging to allow activists to sue anyone tied to a self-made gun or "assault weapon," with the state's blessing.
Newsom's move came in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 8-1 ruling in Jackson v. Whole Woman's Health to allow Texas SB 8 – the Texas Heartbeat Act – to remain in place while legal challenges play out. The Lone Star State's law, signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2021 after the state’s legislators approved it, allows members of the public to sue those who perform or facilitate an illegal abortion for a minimum of $10,000 in damages.
How this translates to AB-1594 is that the California gun bill is a planned workaround to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a federal law that provides gun manufacturers and dealers with some immunity from frivolous lawsuits. The PLCAA was adopted in 2005 by a bipartisan Congress to insulate the industry from a series of suits brought by anti-gun groups that likely could have destroyed America's gun makers and licensed dealers, large and small.
AB-1594 notably provides that an act by a third party, including criminal misuse of a firearm-related product, wouldn't preclude a firearm industry member from liability under the bill. In other words, even if a felon used a stolen gun during a crime, the bill could allow individuals – such as members of an anti-gun group that lives in California who wasn't a victim or witness of the act – to sue everyone from the maker of the firearm and its accessories to the shop that sold them.
“Given last week’s Bruen decision, we must make our communities safer with stronger gun legislation," said Assemblymember Phil Ting, sponsor of AB-1594. "The firearms industry has enjoyed federal immunity from civil lawsuits for far too long, providing them no incentive for them to follow our laws. Hitting their bottom line may finally compel them to take every step possible to prevent illegal sales and theft to reduce gun violence."
A fiscal analysis by the California Senate Appropriations Committee estimated the bill would cost almost $4 million a year extra for the state DOJ to hire additional litigation staff just to prosecute civil actions against firearms manufacturers.
Mark Oliva, public affairs director with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group for the American firearms industry, told Guns.com that AB-1594 is another example of California’s lawmakers refusing to hold criminals accountable and instead scapegoat a Constitutionally-protected industry.
"This legislation was called for as a retaliatory attack against gun owners over Governor Newsom’s frustration with a Texas abortion ban," said Oliva. "It is just as misguided as the Governor’s anger. This legislation runs headlong into the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which has been upheld as Constitutional by U.S. Courts of Appeal and defended by Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice. It has survived because the bipartisan legislation is built on a foundational understanding of tort law that those who commit crimes with firearms are responsible for the damages they cause."
Besides California, New York adopted a similar law to AB-1594 last year. The NSSF, allied with 14 firearm manufacturers, distributors, and retailers – including such household names as Beretta, Glock, Ruger, Sig Sauer, and Smith & Wesson – filed suit in federal court against New York's law last December.
"This law is not about making our communities safer but rather, as former Governor Andrew Cuomo once proclaimed, to impose on the firearm industry a ‘death by a thousand cuts,'" said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF senior vice president for government and public affairs and general counsel, of New York's law.
Banner image: A vintage "Pre-B" CZ 75 with a magazine that is not currently California-legal, except for police. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)