California lawmakers and Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday announced legislation inspired by Texas’ restrictive new abortion law that would subject gun makers and distributors to prosecution for state-banned weapons.
Senate Bill 1327 by Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, would allow citizens to sue anyone who “manufactures, distributes, transports, imports into the state, or sells assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles, ghost guns, or ghost guns”.
A plaintiff could obtain an order to stop the spread of these weapons and recover damages of at least $10,000 for each weapon involved, plus attorneys’ fees.
It was part of a package of bills that also includes AB 1594 by assembly members Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, Mike Gipson, D-Carson and Chris Ward, D-San Diego, that would allow individuals and the California Attorney General to sue gun manufacturers and sellers for damages caused by their product.
Another bill, AB 2571 by Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda, would ban the marketing of semi-automatic weapons or firearms of a certain caliber to children. And Gipson’s AB 1621 would further restrict “phantom guns” in California by regulating gun kits and “80% receivers” the same as fully functional guns and finished receivers, requiring serial numbers and buyer background checks. Ghost guns are typically homemade weapons that lack commercial serial numbers that can be used for identification.
“It’s time to go on the offensive with new measures that empower individuals to hold irresponsible and negligent actors in the firearms industry to account,” Newsom said. He had telegraphed to his want an invoice it would go after gunsmiths like Texas went after abortion providers in December after the US Supreme Court allowed Texas law to apply, at least for now.
Mark Oliva, director of public affairs at the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade association, said the comparison to Texas abortion law “just shows me that the governor is willing to comparing two completely separate issues to achieve its political goals”.
The firearms industry, Oliva added, is working with federal authorities on a number of efforts to prevent the illegal use of firearms, including preventing gun theft and “straw buying.” to bypass background checks. He blamed gun violence in California on the soft policies of its political leaders.
“What we see in California is a lack of political will to hold criminals accountable for their crimes,” Oliva said.
It was the latest salvo against the Golden State gun industry, where San Jose lawmakers have just passed a law, already challenged in court, requiring residents who own firearms to purchase liability insurance and pay an annual fee.
Newsom, lawmakers and Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the legislation at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, where the sale of guns and ammunition has been banned under a law he signed in 2019, alongside photos of a JR-15 Riflea version of the famous AR-15 rifle marketed for children.
The AR-15, a civilian version of the US Army’s assault rifle limited to one shot per trigger pull, is banned in California, but AR-15-style weapons have been used in mass shootings in California, including a 2015 massacre at a San Bernardino County Christmas party and a 2019 ransack at a Poway synagogue.
Newsom compared the marketing of the JR-15 to tobacco producer RJ Reynolds’ cartoon “Joe Camel,” which the company discontinued in 1997 after critics said it had made its brand of cigarettes appealing to children. The JR-15 from WEE1 Tactical is stamped and marketed with a skull and crossbones in the shape of a baby with a pacifier.
“How the hell do they think it’s OK to sell stickers, t-shirts and hats marketing not a toy gun but a JR-15 to get them started early?” Newsom said.
Oliva, a Marine Corps veteran, took issue with Newsom and other lawmakers comparing civilian AR-15-style semi-automatic weapons to weapons he and other soldiers carried that can fire continuously with a single press. on the trigger until they are empty. Regarding the JR-15, he said “there are people in this country who want to teach their children how to own a firearm in a safe and responsible manner. This is just another product which allows us to do so”.
Newsom and lawmakers said the bills would undermine protections for arms manufacturers from lawsuits under the Protection of the Lawful Arms Trade Act of 2005, which they say gives companies guns a shield enjoyed by few American industries.
“Almost every industry in the United States can be held accountable for what their products do, but the firearms industry isn’t held to the same standards,” Ting said. “The financial repercussions may finally push them to be more responsible by improving their practices and adhering to California’s strict gun laws.”
But Oliva said the protections are not absolute under this law — which Bernie Sanders and 59 Vermont Democrats have backed — and that Congress has granted airlines and vaccine makers similar protections.
According to FactCheck.org, federal law allows for prosecution when a gun seller acts negligently, in transfers of a firearm knowing it would be used in a crime, and when manufacturers and sellers market or sell a firearm in violation of federal or state law. Remington this week settled $73 million with the families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut.
CNN noted noted that vaccine manufacturers cannot be held liable in a civil lawsuit for damages resulting from vaccine-related injury or death. And the Washington Post reported that Congress had shielded the airlines from liability in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.