When the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block a Texas law last year that deputized private citizens to enforce a new six-week abortion ban, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vowed to use the same legislative tactic to prevent gun violence.
That idea came to life this week when he signed a bill that establishes a new code of conduct for gun manufacturers and distributors and allows private citizens ― as well as the state and local governments ― to sue the firearms businesses if they’ve caused them harm.
“It’s well known that nearly every industry is held to account when their products cause harm or injury, except one: the gun industry,” Newsom said upon signing the bill.
“California is going to change that. They can no longer hide from the mass destruction that they have caused. ... If you’ve been hurt or a family member is a victim of gun violence, you can now go to court and hold the makers of these deadly weapons accountable,” he continued.
The legislation authored by state Assemblyman Phil Ting establishes a new set of standards that gun and ammunition manufacturers, distributors and dealers must abide by when doing business. Under these rules, industry players must establish “reasonable controls” that keep guns out of the hands of people most likely to cause harm. Such controls include enacting protocols to prevent the sale of firearms to straw purchasers, gun traffickers, anyone legally prohibited from owning a firearm and anyone whom the business has a reasonable concern might unlawfully harm themselves or others.
“For far too long, the firearms industry has enjoyed federal immunity from civil lawsuits, providing them no incentive for them to follow our laws,” Ting said in a statement. “Hitting their bottom line may finally compel them to step up to reduce gun violence by preventing illegal sales and theft.”
The legislation comes after a series of devastating and deadly mass shootings, including the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a series of Fourth of July shootings.
The firearms industry is certain to challenge the new law, and will likely cite the 2005 federal law that bans such state and federal lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers. However, proponents of the new California law say it should be protected by a clause in the 2005 law that allows lawsuits if a firearms business “knowingly violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product” and harm was directly caused because of it.
The National Rifle Association dismissed the new law, saying its language about “reasonable controls” will be used to overreach.
“This intentionally vague term can subject the industry to crippling lawsuits regardless of whether there is any actual violation of law, and therefore prevent law-abiding citizens from being able to access the firearms necessary to exercise a constitutional right,” the group said in a statement.