October 05, 2017

Schiff, Blumenthal Re-Introduce Legislation to Give Gun Victims Their Day in Court and End Gun Industry’s Liability Shield

Legislation Would Repeal Liability Shield Gun Sellers and Manufacturers Currently Enjoy

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) re-introduced legislation – the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act – to ensure that the victims of gun violence are allowed to have their day in court and that the gun industry – 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). 

In 2005, Congress passed PLCAA, which provides immunity in state and federal court from civil liability for manufacturers, distributors, and dealers of firearms, as well as their trade associations, in most negligence and products liability actions. This immunity from liability under well-established common law principles that apply to everyone else in society is unique to the gun industry. 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 with no background check whatsoever. As most gun companies are responsible businesses, this immunity only protects the worst actors in the industry.

“Our nation is plagued by an epidemic of mass shootings and everyday gun violence. While not every murderous act can be prevented by any single measure, we should use a comprehensive approach that includes holding the gun industry accountable when it acts negligently, just as we do with other industries.” Rep. Schiff said. “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.”

“When ten Sandy Hook families courageously took the manufacturer and distributor of the AR-15 used in that horrific tragedy to court, the deceptively named Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was used as a complete barrier to their pursuit of justice. 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,” Senator Blumenthal said. “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.”

“Making the gun industry immune from lawsuits effectively handed them a license to kill,” said Senator Murphy. “Toy manufacturers are held legally responsible if their neglect or irresponsibility hurts people, so why on earth aren’t gun manufacturers? I challenge my colleagues to put the safety of our constituents ahead of the gun lobby’s interests and support this bill. Repealing gun industry immunity will encourage gun manufacturers to make safer products, and it will save lives.”

“Gun manufacturers have hidden behind PLCAA’s liability shield for far too long, with disastrous consequences for families in Connecticut,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT). “This law denies victims of gun violence and their families a fair hearing in court. No other industry in America gets blanket protection from lawsuits. The special protection for the gun industry is wrong and should be repealed.”

“As enacted in 2005, PLCAA gives the gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers unprecedented immunity from civil liability, which is an extraordinary exception provided no other American industry,” said Avery Gardiner, Brady Campaign Co-President. “Most egregious is that PLCAA denies many victims of gun violence and their loved ones their day in court, and makes it significantly harder to achieve industry reform through the courts. That is why Brady was so proud to help develop this legislation, and why it is well past time to take this insidious law off the books.”

 “PLCAA is nothing more than a crass giveaway to the gun industry,” said Chelsea Parsons, Vice President of Guns and Crime Policy at the Center for American Progress. “This law provides unprecedented immunity to these businesses from the type of civil litigation that is routine in other industries to help incentivize the adoption of best practices and safety measures to reduce the risk of harm caused by their products. This bill is a strong step forward in helping ensure that we have a robust system of oversight over the gun industry and the ability to hold bad actors accountable.”

“In 2005, Congress enacted one of the biggest giveaways to private industry in American history by handing gun makers and dealers broad immunity from civil lawsuits,” said Elizabeth Avore, Legal and Policy Director at Everytown for Gun Safety. “In any other business, a victim of a negligent manufacturer or retailer can seek relief in a civil lawsuit—but Congress slammed the courthouse door shut for victims of gun violence.  More than 300,000 Americans have been killed with guns since Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act would right that wrong and make the gun industry play by the same rules as every other American business.” 

When Congress passed PLCAA, its supporters argued that it was necessary to protect the gun industry from frivolous lawsuits, but that victims of gun violence would not be shut out of the courts. Senator Larry Craig, the sponsor of the legislation and at the time a member of the NRA’s board, stated during debate on the Senate floor, “This bill will not prevent a single victim from obtaining relief for wrongs done to them by anyone in the gun industry.” 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 of negligence.

This legislation allows civil cases to go forward against irresponsible bad actors. Letting courts hear these cases would provide justice to victims while creating incentives for responsible business practices that would reduce injuries and deaths.

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. To read the Center for American Progress background document on the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and its history, please click here.