The first major test of New York’s latest attempt to circumvent firearms industry legal protection is underway.
A collection of gun makers and dealers filed a federal lawsuit against New York on Thursday. The suit alleges that a recently passed New York law imposing new civil liability on the industry is unconstitutional.
“Enacted with the specific purposes of overriding the protections from litigation provided by Congress through the PLCAA, the Act attempts to hold Firearm Industry Members responsible for the alleged creation of a ‘public nuisance’ based on out-of-state conduct that is lawful where it occurred but is later determined to be either unlawful, or even ‘unreasonable,’ by a New York judge or jury,” the suit reads.
The lawsuit comes just one day after New York Attorney General Letitia James (D.) announced she was pursuing further strategies to attach civil liability to gun manufacturers and dealers in the model of a recent Texas abortion law. The outcome of the new lawsuit could have a significant impact on whether officials pursue similar novel gun-control efforts.
The New York law in question, SB 7196, was signed in July. The bill declared firearms manufacturers and sellers could be held liable under a newly created “public nuisance” standard for failing to prevent firearms from being used in illegal activity within the state.
The industry has claimed it violates the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a federal law that shields manufacturers and sellers from civil liability for the criminal misuse of firearms. Congress passed the PLCAA in 2005 as a response to some cities suing gun companies over criminal acts committed with their products even when there was no evidence the companies were involved in those crimes. Critics compared the tactic to suing car companies over drunk driving, and a bipartisan majority in Congress decided to outlaw the practice.
The suit alleges that officials in New York intentionally passed the law knowing that it violated federal protections.
“In a press release from Defendant James, the Attorney General’s office recognized that the Act is directly at odds with the PLCAA in that it seeks to ‘restore the ability of states and localities to bring civil liability actions against firearm manufacturers and sellers for negligence’ that the United States Congress eliminated through the PLCAA,” the suit said.
The National Shootings Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry’s trade group, and a coalition of fourteen gun manufacturers and dealers are listed as plaintiffs in the case. The NSSF accused New York lawmakers of trying to impede gun sales with the law rather than reduce crime.
“This law is not about making our communities safer but rather, as former Governor Andrew Cuomo once proclaimed, to impose on the firearm industry a ‘death by a thousand cuts,’” Larry Keane, NSSF Senior Vice President, said in a statement. “Today’s lawsuit will end this unconstitutional attack on the businesses, large and small, vital to Americans’ Second Amendment rights.”
Attorney General James, the named defendant in the suit, promised to defend the law and accused the plaintiffs of endangering public safety.
“Once again, the gun lobby is trying to exert total control over this country and thwart common-sense efforts to protect lives,” she said. “Make no mistake: We will aggressively defend this law and won’t back down against their continued attempts to endanger New Yorkers.”
But Keane maintained that the effort was simply a ploy to target gun rights. He said the gun industry was committed to helping stop gun crime.
“Opening up members of the firearm industry to a torrent of baseless civil lawsuits is – as it was in the past – an effort to impose radical gun control policies by litigating the forceful bankruptcy of companies,” Keane said. “New York’s baseless law ignores the fact that members of the firearm industry work cooperatively with federal, state, and local authorities for real solutions to help address crimes involving guns.”