Gun-control advocates won’t be able to sue gun companies over the lawful manufacture and sale of firearms in New Jersey.
That’s the order U.S. District Court Judge Zahid N. Quraishi, a Biden appointee, handed down on Tuesday. The judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of New Jersey’s “public nuisance” law, Assembly Bill 1765, that sought to allow residents to sue gun makers who don’t “establish, implement, and enforce reasonable controls regarding its manufacture, sale, distribution, importing, and marketing of gun related products.” The judge sided with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), an industry trade group, and found the state law violates the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which protects companies from liability for the criminal use of their products by third parties.
“Congress’s intent here is clear. ‘The PLCAA’s purpose is to ‘prohibit causes of action against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms or ammunition products, and their trade associations, for the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products or ammunition products by others When the product functioned as designed and intended.’ A1765 does just the opposite,” Judge Quraishi wrote in his opinion. “To read A1765 as fitting within the predicate exception would run afoul of the goals of the PLCAA and would, in fact, ‘gut the PLCAA’ as NSSF suggests.”
The defeat is the second in two days for the garden state’s newest gun laws. It represents another win for the gun industry and the liability protections it lobbied to be implemented back during the George W. Bush (R.) administration. Despite a high-profile $73 million settlement between insurers of the defunct Remington Arms Company and family members of Sandy Hook victims early last year, there have been few other dents in the PLCAA protection gun makers enjoy.
Judge Quraishi rejected New Jersey’s argument that the PLCAA’s allowance for lawsuits over illegal sales or marketing and defective gun designs meant its law should be allowed to go forward. He said the state’s law contradicts federal law, and federal law is paramount.
“A1765 would subject manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms or ammunition products and their trade associations to civil liability for the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm or ammunition products by others,” he wrote. “This is in direct conflict with the PLCAA’s purpose. Accordingly, the Court finds that NSSF is likely to succeed on the merits that A1765 does not fall within the predicate exception of the PLCAA and is therefore preempted by the PLCAA.”
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin (D.) called the decision “unprecedented and unsupportable” and promised to appeal.
“The New Jersey Legislature acted lawfully when it adopted public nuisance legislation to hold the gun industry accountable, and nothing in federal law allows firearms manufacturers to violate our state statutes with impunity,” Platkin told The Reload. “Another district court already rejected the exact same arguments put forth by the gun industry last year, and we look forward to swiftly appealing this misguided, outlier decision. We will always put public safety ahead of the profits of the gun industry.”
Judge Quraishi said he knew guns are used to commit crimes but argued that doesn’t mean states can disregard federal law when trying to address the issue.
“The Court is mindful that firearms are inherently dangerous and even more so in the wrong hands, but it is also mindful that the PLCAA embodies Congress’ s earnest effort to balance those dangers against the national interest in protecting access to firearms,” he wrote. “Under the circumstances, the Court is therefore compelled to find that Defendant fails to show legitimate countervailing concerns and that the public interest favors granting Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.”
Lawrence Keane, NSSF senior vice president, celebrated the preliminary injunction.
“NSSF is pleased by today’s ruling because we know New Jersey’s law is unconstitutional as it is preempted by federal law,” he said in a statement. “The bottom line is that Congress specifically addressed these sorts of harassing and baseless lawsuits when PLCAA was passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority and signed into law by President George W. Bush. The court correctly pointed out in its opinion that New Jersey’s law directly conflicts with the intention of Congress.”
The judge also noted there are likely Second Amendment issues with New Jersey’s law since it implicates gun making and selling, which are core components of what the amendment protects.
“The Court additionally has concerns as to whether A1765 can survive on Constitutional grounds,” Judge Quraishi wrote. “However, because the Court finds NSSF is likely to succeed on the merits of its preemption argument, the Court need not address the Constitutional issues at this time.”