In his Rose Garden address in April, President Joe Biden called for legislators to enact new gun control provisions, while he also made the highly dubious claim that gun manufacturers couldn’t face lawsuits.
“This is the only outfit that is exempt from being sued,” Biden suggested referring to the firearms industry. “If I get one thing on my list — (if) the Lord came down and said, ‘Joe, you get one of these’ — give me that one. Most people don’t realize, the only industry in America, a billion-dollar industry, that can’t be sued, exempt from being sued, are gun manufacturers.”
That has never actually been the case, but Biden was likely referring to the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), also known as “The Child Safety Lock Act,” which does protect gun manufacturers from being held liable in cases when people commit crimes using their products.
Now it seems that lawmakers in New York State have given final approval to legislation that could allow civil lawsuits to be brought against gun makers and dealers. The measure, if signed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, would make the Empire State the first to allow civil suits against firearms companies. It would circumvent the federal law that offers legal immunity to the firearms industry by amending state nuisance law.
Firearm manufactures can be sued – and have been – for a number of other reasons including product defects. However, the PLCAA was put in place so that victims of a mass shooting or other crime victims can’t blame a gun manufacturer for the actions of the shooter. Supporters of the bill see it otherwise.
“Responsible gun companies do not need special legal protections from lawsuits. Irresponsible gun companies do not deserve them,” said sponsor Sen. Zellnor Myrie. “Our goal in passing this legislation is to incentivize responsible behavior in the marketplace and encourage the gun industry to enact the strongest possible safeguards against illegal purchases, gun trafficking and other actions that allow their products to end up on our streets.”
Lawmakers have suggested it isn’t about frivolous lawsuits, but would rather in place if a gun manufacturer or dealer “knowingly violates” the law. It would allow families of gun violence victims and even the state to sue a firearms company for failing to take the necessary steps to prevent illegal sales, purchases or even use of their products.
Supporters of the Second Amendment have called the measures a form of gun control through other means.
“He wants to drive us out of business,” Mark Oliva, the director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade group, told NBC News in April. “So it’s a very scary proposition, and we take it very seriously.”
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.