Attorney General Bonta: Assembly Bill 1594 Will Increase Firearm Industry Accountability

Friday, February 18, 2022
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SAN DIEGO – California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Brady Campaign (Brady) today announced Assembly Bill 1594 (AB 1594), legislation that will restore the rights of Californians to hold the firearm industry responsible for their misconduct. Authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting, and sponsored by Attorney General Bonta and Brady, the bill governs the sale and marketing practices of firearms manufacturers and distributors who do business in California, requiring them to make reasonable efforts to prevent their products from being used unlawfully. If gun industry members fail to take proper precautions in their marketing and distribution, AB 1594 will authorize the Attorney General and individual Californians to file civil suits to recoup the damage from those failures.   

“No industry should get a special exemption from protecting their customers, but especially not an industry responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans every year,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “In 2005, the federal government stripped Americans of the right to hold gun manufacturers and distributors responsible for the damage their conduct causes when their products are used unlawfully – leaving only a narrow exception for such lawsuits. Today, using that exception, we begin the process of restoring these rights in California. AB 1594 requires the gun industry to take reasonable steps to make sure their products are not used unlawfully. If the gun industry ignores this responsibility – one that is common for companies in nearly every industry in the country – this bill gives victims and their families an additional legal pathway for holding the firearm industry financially responsible.”

“In too many instances, victims of gun violence are denied their day in court because of the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” said Brady President Kris Brown. “AB 1594 would begin to remove this barrier to justice in California, clearing the way for those hurt by irresponsible and negligent gun industry actions to hold the industry accountable. This bill will create real accountability and incentives for the gun industry to reform its practices and prevent gun violence.”

“We must make our communities safer. Almost every industry in the United States can be held liable for what their products do, but the gun industry is not held to the same standard. Financial repercussions may finally push them to be more responsible by improving their practices and adhering to California’s strict gun laws,” said Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco).

“California lawmakers have long been the leaders of the gun violence prevention movement and today's announcement continues that work,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action and California resident. “The gun industry should take note of another much needed wake-up call from our state leaders today: act recklessly and illegally, and you'll be held accountable. Our grassroots volunteers are proud to support this bill and eager to help get it passed into law this session.”

"The gun industry has a responsibility, just like any other business, to take reasonable precautions to protect human life and prevent unnecessary harm and suffering," said Ari Freilich, State Policy Director at Giffords. "When they choose not to take those reasonable precautions, they should be held fairly and justly accountable. This legislation will hold the firearm industry to a standard code of conduct and help ensure that people who have been harmed by wrongful gun industry conduct can have their day in court. We applaud California leaders for putting public safety first and look forward to passing this important legislation into law."

In the United States, nearly every industry is held legally responsible when their misconduct harms consumers. Yet despite this, in 2005, the federal government enacted the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). PLCAA provides the firearm industry unique and broad freedom to operate with little to no liability. 

However, one exception to PLCAA allows civil suits to proceed against gun manufacturers. A civil suit may proceed if the gun manufacturer or distributor knowingly violates a state law regulating the sale or marketing of the product, and if that violation was a direct cause of the harm the individual who brought the suit suffered. AB 1594 would create a clear path within California state law for the public and the Attorney General’s Office to hold gun manufacturers and distributors responsible for their unlawful conduct.

California remains among the states with the lowest number of gun deaths per capita. However, the number of homicides in the state rose from 2019 to 2020, and nearly 90% of the increase was a result of a rise in homicides committed with a firearm. 

Attorney General Bonta is committed to promoting and defending commonsense gun laws at the state and federal level to help keep the public safe and reduce incidents of gun violence in California communities. Last November, Attorney General Bonta secured a victory in a lawsuit challenging California’s ban on large-capacity magazines. In October, Attorney General Bonta announced a joint effort with the San Francisco District Attorney against ghost gun kit manufacturer and retailers Blackhawk Manufacturing Group, Inc.; MDX Corporation; and GS Performance, LLC. The lawsuit alleges that the companies undermined and evaded multiple state firearms laws. In September, Attorney General Bonta led a coalition of state attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court defending New York’s law regulating when individuals may obtain a license to carry firearms in public. In August, Attorney General Bonta supported a Proposed Rule by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives that would help regulate ghost guns by clarifying the agency’s definition of what qualifies as a firearm. Attorney General Bonta has also urged Californians to use the state’s Gun Violence Restraining Order law to help keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others. Attorney General Bonta is currently defending the state’s assault weapons ban.

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