The Second Circuit Court of Appeals is preparing to hear oral arguments in NSSF v. James. How the court decides will determine whether New York’s common sense law to hold the gun industry accountable will stand, and it could serve as a bellwether for other challenges to similar laws across the country.
What is This Case About?
In 2021, in response to the gun industry’s broad immunity established by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), gun sense legislators in New York took action and passed a first-in-the-nation bill to bring legal accountability to the gun industry by passing legislation that allows victims of gun violence to seek justice when members of the gun industry fail to implement safeguards for the way they do business or knowingly endanger the public.
This law fits into one of PLCAA’s exceptions, which left room for state legislators to regulate the gun industry. Shortly after the bill was signed into law by former Governor Cuomo, the gun industry filed suit to block the measure, which comes as no surprise, as relentless attacks on common sense gun safety measures have become the gun lobby’s calling card. However, a federal district court in Albany rejected the industry’s arguments, allowing the law to stay in effect. The industry has appealed this decision up to the Second Circuit.
Why was New York’s Law Necessary?
In 2005, gun-lobby-backed legislators in Congress passed PLCAA to shield the gun industry from most civil liability. While other industries, like the automobile, tobacco, and even the opioid industries, have innovated and adapted to develop new safety features and establish responsible sales and marketing practices, largely due to the threat of lawsuits, the gun industry has failed to do so because it has largely been shielded from legal responsibility.
Since PLCAA passed in 2005, not a single gun manufacturer accused of contributing to gun violence has gone to trial. The gun industry’s broad immunity from legal accountability should be repealed. However, while PLCAA is in effect, state legislators can rely on one of its exceptions to pass innovative laws like New York to hold the gun industry accountable for its misconduct.
No industry should be above the law, but especially not an industry that contributes to an epidemic that kills over 40,000 Americans each year — one that kills American teens and children more than anything else. However, despite the outsized role the gun industry plays in our gun violence epidemic, members of the gun industry are rarely held accountable for their reckless and deadly behavior. That’s where New York’s law comes into play.
How Does the Gun Industry Play a Role in Worsening America’s Gun Violence Crisis?
The gun industry plays a central role in proliferating America’s gun violence epidemic, particularly in three distinct ways:
- Innovating Towards Danger: The gun industry continues to produce increasingly deadly firearms, like assault weapons, ghost guns, and firearms that can easily be turned into machine guns.
- Arming Criminals: The gun industry fails to secure its supply chain, making it more likely for guns to be diverted to the criminal market and used in crimes.
- Toxic Marketing: The gun industry markets guns, including assault weapons, to teens and extremists while downplaying the risks that firearms pose.
Can Gun Manufacturers and Sellers be Subject to Lawsuits at all if PLCAA is in Effect?
Yes, limited categories of lawsuits are permitted by PLCAA’s exceptions. For example, when a gun industry actor knowingly violates a state or federal gun law, they can be held accountable. New York’s gun industry accountability law was drafted to fit into this exception.
Is New York’s Law in Effect Right Now?
Yes, a federal judge rejected each of the gun industry’s arguments at the district court. Since that time, the AG’s office has brought a lawsuit under the new law, taking aim at companies that illegally sell ghost guns into New York.
What is the Legal Precedent for a Case Like This?
In 2021, New York became the first state to take on the gun industry’s broad immunity through state-level legislation. Soon after New York’s law was passed, seven other states followed suit, and in almost every instance, the gun lobby immediately filed lawsuits to challenge these laws in the courts. However, each of these laws are currently in effect.
- In New Jersey, the 3rd Circuit rejected NSSF’s challenge to a similar law as being “backed by no evidence.”
- Likewise, in Delaware, the district court rejected NSSF’s challenge to the state statute as premature.
- The NSSF is also attempting to strike down similar laws in Illinois, Washington, California and Hawaii, but no decisions have been issued in those cases yet.
- Colorado’s industry accountability law has not been challenged.