Trials & Litigation

California governor signs bill allowing citizen plaintiffs to sue over gun violations that cause harm

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Gun and gavel

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill authorizing lawsuits against gun makers and dealers for harm caused by business practices that violate state gun regulations.

The legislation, AB 1594, is one of two California bills that use civil liability to target the gun industry, report the Wall Street Journal and Courthouse News Service.

The bill signed by the Democratic governor on Tuesday allows private citizens, the state attorney general and local governments to sue for damages or injunction relief.

A 2005 federal law generally grants lawsuit immunity to gun makers and dealers for criminal use of their products. The bill signed by Newsom is based on an exemption in the federal law that allows suits for violations of state laws concerning sales or marketing of guns, according to a press release by the governor’s office.

The new law also bans the manufacture and sale of any gun or related product that is abnormally dangerous and likely to create an unreasonable risk of harm. The law creates an assumption that a product is abnormally dangerous when its features are more suitable for assault than self-defense, when the product is designed or marketed in a way that promotes conversion into an illegal product, or when it is marketed to minors or others who are banned from accessing guns.

Newsom has indicated he will sign the second bill, SB 1327, which allows private citizens to sue anyone who makes, sells or distributes weapons banned for sale in California. Banned weapons include assault-style rifles and homemade “ghost guns.” Damages are a minimum of $10,000 per illegal firearm.

That bill is modeled on a Texas law authorizing private lawsuits for damages against those who aid an abortion in violation of the state’s fetal heartbeat law

The Texas law, enacted before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the right to abortion, made it impossible for abortion providers to challenge because there were no state defendants charged with enforcement who could be sued.

Shilpi Agarwal, legal director at the ACLU of Northern California, opposes 1327 because it will encourage copycat bills that aim to prevent court protection of constitutional rights.

“The erosion of court protection of constitutional rights means that states will be empowered to cherry-pick the hot-button political issue of the day and apply the [Texas] mechanism to it, through the passage of their own copycat bills,” Agarwal wrote at ACLU California Action on May 2, before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. “Such bills have already been considered to target abortion rights, transgender rights and speech rights. This will inevitably escalate our ongoing and dangerous polarization, where the enforceable constitutional rights that a person possesses in one state will differ from those that a person possesses in another.”

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