With the recent rise in gun violence, Governor Gavin Newsom has signed into law two bills allowing individuals and state and local governments to sue gun manufacturers and sellers for negligence. The following article explains the two bills, Assembly Bill 1594 and Senate Bill 1327, in detail.
Assembly Bill 1594
While existing law generally regulates the transfer and possession of firearms and provides for various private rights of action, Assembly Bill 1594 establishes a strict firearm industry standard of conduct. Beginning on July 1, 2023, firearm industry members will be required to take reasonable precautions to ensure that they do not sell or distribute a firearm to a downstream distributor who fails to implement reasonable controls. Additionally, the bill will prohibit firearm industry members from manufacturing or selling firearms that are abnormally dangerous and likely to create an unreasonable risk of harm to public health and safety.
For those who violate the requisite standard of conduct, AB 1594 authorizes the harmed parties to sue the violators in court. Specifically, the bill states that a harmed party, the Attorney General, or city or county attorneys can bring a civil action against a firearm industry member for an act or omission in violation of the standard of conduct, as specified above. If a court determines that a firearm industry member has violated the standard of conduct, the court may award various relief, including injunctive relief, damages, and attorney’s fees and costs.
Senate Bill 1327
Senate Bill 1327 similarly creates a private right of action against firearm dealers and manufacturers. Since 2005, gun manufacturers and dealers have been shielded from liability by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. However, SB 1327 will expand the ability for private citizens to sue the firearms industry for injuries and deaths caused by gun violence. Specifically, it provides a private right of action against any person who manufactures or distributes any firearm without a serial number, assault weapon, .50 BMG rifle, or unregulated firearm precursor part.
This bill is modeled after Texas’s abortion law, which allows citizens to sue anyone who aids or abets in the performance or inducement of an abortion after six weeks. SB 1327 states that it would make its provisions inoperative upon invalidation of the Texas law and would repeal its provisions on January 1st of the following year. These types of statutes are becoming increasingly popular due to the idea that private enforcers are often more motivated than public prosecutors.
Will the Laws Stand?
Some legal experts have stated that the law will likely face scrutiny to see whether it is preempted by federal law. In addition, private citizens need proof that they have suffered personal harm in order to bring a lawsuit against firearm manufacturers or sellers. Gun rights groups have also threatened to challenge the new bill. If they do, they may sue on grounds that the law violates the Second Amendment or the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. However, these bills have been tailored to survive legal challenges since they do not directly threaten a protected constitutional right. Many experts believe that SB 1327 is different enough from the Texas legislation that it could survive a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite the uncertainty of the future of these bills, it is clear that California is cracking down on the firearm industry standards.
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