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June 11, 2019

Schiff, Blumenthal, Colleagues Reintroduce Legislation to Give Gun Victims Their Day in Court

Legislation Would Repeal Liability Shield Protecting Gun Sellers and Manufacturers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) reintroduced the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act to ensure that 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 repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), effectively giving victims of gun violence their day in court. The legislation is co-sponsored by Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), and Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA).

“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. Every murderous act cannot be prevented by one single measure, but ensuring that the gun industry – like all other industries – is held accountable for negligent behavior is a critical element of a comprehensive approach,” said Rep. Schiff. “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.”

“Our simple measure will give victims of gun violence their day in court and unlock the doors to justice —repealing the sweetheart deal that Congress granted to the gun lobby,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “A recent ruling in the Connecticut Supreme Court gave ten courageous Sandy Hook families a pathway to justice, but for hundreds of thousands of gun violence survivors in states around the country, the deceptively named Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act is being used as a complete barrier to holding gunmakers and dealers accountable. That’s because under current law – and unlike virtually every other manufacturer of consumer products – the gun industry cannot be sued by consumers who are harmed by their products.”

In 2005, Congress passed PLCAA, providing immunity for gun manufacturers, distributors, and dealers that protects them from most negligence and products 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.

“We cannot keep giving the gun industry license to kill. By making them immune to lawsuits, we are essentially putting their interests ahead of our community’s safety. That’s just wrong. It’s time to let the gun lobby know that they no longer own Congress the way they used to and they won’t be held to a special standard any longer,” said Sen. Murphy.

“Americans are fed up with special interests avoiding accountability, and nowhere is that painfully clearer than the special immunities that gun manufacturers, distributors, and dealers get in the form of a federal liability shield. This shield has protected the gun industry from meeting accountability standards that other industries must meet,” said Rep. Mucarsel-Powell. “As part of a comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence, it’s time we end the gun industry’s special protection from their negligent actions, and allow victims of gun violence pursue the justice they deserve.”

“Gun violence has become a public health crisis in our country, yet many of those responsible for it – namely, negligent gun sellers and manufacturers – are shielded from accountability. In any other industry – whether it be Big Pharma or Big Tobacco – the American people can hold bad actors accountable for negligent behavior by taking them to court,” said Rep. Crow. “Yet gun manufacturers and sellers stand immune and give the gun lobby the green light to put private profit ahead of public safety. In my district, we saw families go bankrupt after the Aurora Theater shooting because they tried to hold those in power accountable. It’s time we created a level playing field so survivors can have their day in court.”

“I have been advocating repeal of legal immunity for gun manufacturing companies since I served in the Pennsylvania state legislature. Throughout our nation, there are countless communities where people have endured pain from losing their loved ones to senseless gun violence, and so many of these deaths could have been avoided if we held these companies accountable for illegal sales and/or defective guns,” said Rep. Evans. “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 as millions of lives depend on it. This legislation would be another tool in the toolbox to protect our citizens from gun violence.”

“No industry should be above the law, especially one that produces deadly weapons — and yet America’s gun industry enjoys special protection from lawsuits thanks to the millions of dollars they spent lobbying politicians,” said John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety. “We applaud Senator Blumenthal and Representative Schiff for taking action to repeal PLCAA and allow the courts to hold reckless gun manufacturers and gun dealers accountable.”

"Repealing PLCAA has been one of our top priorities since 20 children and six educators were senselessly murdered with an AR-15 in our elementary school. Congress acted recklessly when it passed a law that protected the gun industry from nearly all lawsuits. All families and survivors directly impacted by the heartbreaking gun violence epidemic in our nation deserve to have their day in court to seek justice,” said Po Murray, Chairwoman of Newtown Action Alliance and The Newtown Foundation. “Repealing PLCAA would also help to force the firearm and ammunition manufacturers to produce safer products and deter deceptive and dangerous marketing practices."

“It’s time for Congress to stand with the survivors of gun violence,” said Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. “For too long, gun lobbyists had the final say in Washington, D.C., and that meant Americans who had lived through the unthinkable-- who simply wanted justice for loved ones they would never see again-- could never get it. The gun lobby convinced politicians that an entire industry deserved to operate without fear of ever being held responsible in a courtroom. Today, we stand up and fight again to restore the fundamentally American principle that no industry, including the gun industry, is above the law. I’m grateful to Senator Blumenthal and Representative Schiff for continuing this push for justice for those who deserve it most.”

“Brady is proud to stand with Sen. Blumenthal and Rep. Schiff in their fight to pass the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act and repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA),” said Kris Brown, President of Brady. “No one should not be above the law, especially not irresponsible gun companies that choose to profit off the criminal gun market or sell guns without safety features they know will save lives. It is imperative that negligent gun manufacturers and dealers are legally held responsible for the damage that they have caused. PLCAA has enabled the gun industry to profit from dangerous business practices, and treated victims of gun industry negligence as second class citizens. No other American industry enjoys such protection from its own bad acts. The gun industry’s special backroom deal is a raw deal for Americans. It is past time for Congress to end the gun industry’s special protections from civil justice.” 

When Congress passed PLCAA, its supporters argued that it was necessary to protect the gun industry from frivolous lawsuits, and that victims of gun violence would not be shut out of the courts. In reality, numerous cases around the nation have been dismissed on the basis of PLCAA, even when the gun dealers and manufacturers acted in a fashion that would qualify as negligent if it involved any other product. Victims in these cases were denied the right to even discover or introduce evidence. This legislation allows civil cases to go forward against irresponsible bad actors. Letting courts hear these cases would provide justice to victims and their families, while creating incentives for responsible business practices that would reduce injuries and deaths. Effectively, the gun industry would once again be subject to the same laws as every other industry, just as it was prior to 2005.

To read the one page background document on the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, please click here. To read the legislation, please click here. Click the following links to read background on PLCAA from the Center for American Progress and the Giffords Law Center.

Rep. Schiff first introduced legislation repealing PLCAA during the 113th Congress.