Schiff Bill to Repeal Gun Industry Liability Shield Passed Out of Committee
Last night, the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance Congressman Adam Schiff’s (D-Burbank) Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, clearing the way for a vote on the House floor. Along with yesterday’s markup of the Assault Weapons Ban of 2021, this represents one of the most significant congressional acts in a decade on two of gun safety advocates’ top legislative priorities.
Schiff’s Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act co-sponsored by Reps. Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), and 70 other House members, would repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act to ensure the gun industry – including manufacturers, sellers, and interest groups – is not shielded from liability when it acts with negligence and disregard for public safety. The bill would allow civil cases to go forward against irresponsible actors in state and federal courts – just as they would if they involved any other product – and give victims of gun violence and their families their day in court. The bill would also incentivize responsible business practices that would reduce gun injuries and deaths.
“In 2020, for the first time ever, firearms were the leading cause of death for young people in America. Congress long ago gave the gun industry blanket immunity from any liability – even when their negligence resulted in death – leaving manufacturers and dealers with no incentive to adopt safe business practices and leaving victims and their families with no legal recourse,” said Schiff. “The gun lobby has enjoyed this unique status for nearly two decades, but now we have the opportunity to put an end to it. And we must seize it. I look forward to my bill, along with the Assault Weapons Ban of 2021, being put to a vote, and I urge my colleagues to pass them both so we can save lives.”
“As someone who’s advocated this concept in Pennsylvania’s legislature and now in Congress, I’m proud to be an original co-sponsor of Chairman Schiff’s bill to restore this basic right of victims and survivors. So many American gun deaths could be avoided if we held these companies accountable for illegal sales and/or defective guns. State attorneys general were able to hold Big Tobacco accountable in the 1990s, and they should be able to hold gun manufacturing companies accountable in the 21st century since thousands of lives depend on it. This legislation would be another tool in the toolbox to protect our citizens from gun violence,” said Evans.
“The gun violence epidemic is killing our kids and families. With other industries – like Big Pharma or Big Tobacco – the American people can hold bad actors accountable for negligent behavior by taking them to court, but PLCAA shields gun manufacturers and sellers from liability. This bill repealing PLCAA is another important step to finally loosen the grip the gun lobby has on our lives. I’m grateful to continue this long-overdue momentum as we build on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act with additional commonsense reforms,” said Crow.
In 2005, a Republican-controlled Congress passed PLCAA, providing immunity for gun manufacturers, distributors, and dealers that protects them from most negligence and product liability actions in both state and federal court. Despite guns’ lethal capacity, the firearm industry enjoys a special shield from civil liability. As a result, gun makers and sellers have a lesser obligation to act with reasonable care for the safety of the public. It also means that gun sellers can turn a blind eye to straw purchasers or traffickers who may buy hundreds of weapons and traffic them to others without background checks.
Schiff first introduced legislation to repeal PLCAA in 2013, and most recently again in April 2021 when President Biden announced the need to repeal this liability shield as a centerpiece of his comprehensive strategy to reduce gun crime. President Biden also urged Congress to take up and immediately pass Schiff’s bill during his March State of the Union address.