WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy have introduced legislation to rescind a 2005 law that has blocked most negligence and product liability cases from being filed against gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers in state or federal courts.
The threat of negligence and product liability lawsuits will provide “a powerful incentive” for safer products, said Blumenthal, who noted that such lawsuits have moved the tobacco, automobile, and pharmaceutical industries to focus on safety.
The Connecticut Democrats say removing the shield would make it easier for victims of gun violence to seek redress from the industry — and, they hope, would lead the industry to focus on safety in the making and selling of deadly weapons.
Murphy echoed the same point saying, “lifesaving technology is out there for the taking” but doesn’t see “the light of day” because the gun industry has a liability shield — unique to the industry — that removes any threat of financial accountability.
Joining Blumenthal and Murphy at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday were House Democrats Adam Schiff of California, Debbie Muscarel-Powell of Florida, Jason Crow of Colorado, Dwight Evans of Pennsylvania and members of gun safety advocacy groups.
Blumenthal has introduced the same bill in the 114th and 115th Congresses as companion bills to legislation that Schiff introduced in the other chamber. Schiff is reintroducing his bill in the House, where it could pass with Democrats in the majority. The Senate is unlikely to take up the measure under a Republican majority.
Blumenthal said he was inspired to file the legislation because of a lawsuit by the families of Sandy Hook victims against the manufacturer of the Bushmaster assault rifle used in the 2012 elementary school massacre.
A divided Connecticut Supreme Court recently ruled that gun maker Remington can be sued over how it marketed the Bushmaster rifle used in the massacre. The 4-3 ruling found that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) does not bar the plaintiffs from proceeding on the single, limited theory that the defendants violated Connecticut law by marketing the XM15-E2S to civilians for criminal purposes, and that those wrongful marketing tactics caused or contributed to the Sandy Hook massacre.
Connecticut’s high court took up the case after a judge threw it out in 2016, ruling that the federal PLCAA shields gunmakers from liability when their firearms are used in crime.
While repealing the PLCAA would not affect the Sandy Hook lawsuit, it would make the path easier for victims of gun violence to pursue lawsuits against gun manufacturers in the future.
Congressman Crow said that it is unfair that families that have lost loved ones in mass shootings are unable to hold the gun industry accountable. He noted that a lawsuit filed by family survivors of the 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in his district was thrown out because of the PLCAA.
“In the Army, I learned that citizenship comes with duties and responsibilities,” he said. “We are failing to fulfill those duties by giving the gun lobby immunity and not holding companies and individuals responsible for their negligence in the criminal misuse of firearm products.”
Connecticut Citizens Defense League President Scott Wilson said that gun manufacturers face the same product liability that all companies face if their products are defective in some way.
“However, unending frivolous lawsuits for product misuse would simply bankrupt firearms companies,” Wilson said in a written statement. “No one would be able to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights if lawmakers have their way with this bill. That fact should concern all Americans.
“Senator Blumenthal and Senator Murphy are trying to do (sic) is hold manufacturers responsible for acts committed with their products at the hands of violent people,” Wilson continued. “This is wrong in the sense that we would not stand for an automobile company to be sued because a person deliberately ran someone over.”