Democrats Push Bill To Allow Victims To Hold Gun Industry Accountable In Court

The Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act would end special legal protections for firearm manufacturers, sellers and trade groups.

Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation on Tuesday to end special legal protections for the gun industry and allow victims of gun violence to sue manufacturers.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) reintroduced the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act. The bill is meant to ensure that gun manufacturers, sellers and trade groups are not immune to civil liability in cases of alleged negligence.

“The gun industry should not enjoy special privileges and protections, especially while our nation is plagued by an epidemic of mass shootings and everyday gun violence, ” Schiff said in a Tuesday statement. “This bill would pierce the gun industry’s liability shield by putting an end to the special protections the gun industry receives when they shirk their fundamental responsibility to act with reasonable care for the public safety. Victims of gun violence deserve their day in court.”

The bill would repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which Congress passed in 2005. PLCAA provides immunity for licensed firearm manufacturers, distributors, dealers and trade groups from most civil lawsuits in state and federal court when a firearm is used unlawfully. Supporters of PLCAA have said the immunity ensures that the gun industry is protected from “frivolous” lawsuits, though co-sponsors of Tuesday’s bill said numerous gun violence victims’ cases throughout the country have been dismissed on the basis of PLCAA.

“Under state and federal law, we require and expect every other industry ― whether car makers or drug companies ― to act with reasonable care for public safety. But in 2005, after furious lobbying by the [National Rifle Association], Congress passed PLCAA to create a special carve-out for the gun industry,” Schiff said in a news conference, surrounded by members of gun violence prevention groups, including Moms Demand Action, March for Our Lives and Giffords. “Responsible actors in the gun industry don’t need this limitation on liability, and the irresponsible ones don’t deserve it.”

In addition to repealing PLCAA, the bill would allow those filing civil lawsuits in state and federal courts to subpoena and introduce relevant gun trace data maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Currently, a provision in the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill blocks the discovery and introduction into evidence of the ATF’s gun trace data as part of civil proceedings, but co-sponsors of Tuesday’s bill said such data can help establish a pattern of negligent behavior by the firearm’s manufacturer or dealer.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation plans to oppose the legislation, the firearms trade organization’s senior official, Lawrence Keane, told NPR. Keane called the bill “fundamentally unfair.”

Schiff initially introduced the measure to repeal PLCAA in 2013. The bill has been reintroduced without success at least two other times, though Democrats are hopeful since recent polling shows 90% of Americans support universal background checks. But even if the bill passes in the House, it will have a tough time in the Republican-controlled Senate, which does not appear eager to pass gun control legislation.

“The gun lobby convinced politicians that an entire industry deserved to operate without fear of ever being held responsible in a courtroom,” said former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who leads a gun violence prevention organization under her name after an assassination attempt in 2011. “Today, we stand up and fight again to restore the fundamentally American principle that no industry, including the gun industry, is above the law.”

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