Attorney General Bonta Joins Multistate Amicus Brief Supporting Accountability for Gun Industry

Tuesday, January 17, 2023
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Multistate coalition argues that states have the power to curb dangerous industry practices

OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a multistate coalition in a legal effort supporting states’ rights to enact commonsense laws to protect the public from gun violence. The coalition of 18 attorneys general today filed an amicus brief in support of New York’s defense against a legal challenge to its firearm-related public nuisance statute in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The New York statute, similar to the law Attorney General Bonta championed in California — AB 1594 — restores the right of victims to hold the firearm industry responsible for its misconduct. In the amicus brief, the coalition argues that New York’s statute is in line with individual states’ longstanding authority to advance laws and policies that protect consumers from harms committed by manufacturers and sellers. In 2021, gun violence is believed to have killed nearly 49,000 people in the United States, more than in any other year on record.

“In California, we put people before profits — we won't tolerate it when companies' reckless and greedy practices endanger people’s lives,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Gun violence has left too many families broken, too many children traumatized, too many loved ones in pain — it’s time to stand up to the companies who peddle these deadly weapons. There is no reason that the gun industry should be the only industry exempt from responsibility for the harm that its products cause, especially when its products are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans each year. The California Department of Justice continues to stand with our partners across the nation in defending commonsense gun safety laws that protect communities and save lives.”

California’s AB 1594, which was sponsored by Attorney General Bonta and signed into law in July 2022, creates a pathway for Californians who have been harmed by gun violence to hold appropriate bad actors — including gun manufacturers and distributors — accountable. Under the law, if gun industry members fail to take proper precautions in their marketing and distribution to prevent their products from being used unlawfully, the Attorney General and individual Californians can file civil suits to recoup the damage from those failures. 

New York’s statute takes a similar approach to AB 1594, allowing its residents to take legal action against members of the firearm industry that violate state law. In National Shooting Sports Foundation v. James, a group of gun manufacturers and distributors filed a lawsuit seeking to block enforcement of the statute, but their motion for preliminary injunction was denied by the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. The plaintiffs are now appealing the district court’s ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. 

In their amicus brief supporting New York’s defense of the law in the appeals court, the attorneys general assert that state laws that provide a remedy for unlawful sale and marketing of firearms benefit the public by encouraging responsible business practices. Moreover, such statutes are a lawful exercise of state sovereign authority and are not preempted by the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which allows states to enact laws regulating firearms sales and marketing and also provide for civil lawsuits when gun manufacturers and sellers violate those laws. And finally, such laws are consistent with the U.S. Constitution’s dormant Commerce Clause, which permits states to create public-nuisance statutes to address gun violence occurring within their borders, consistent with the states’ well-established authority to regulate matters of legitimate local concern, even where interstate commerce may be affected.

In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Illinois, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

A copy of the brief can be found here.

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