May 19, 2021
Democrats on Capitol Hill recently introduced bicameral legislation called the “Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act” that will open the gun industry to even more frivolous lawsuits. In 2005, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”) became law. The PLCAA protects the licensed and heavily regulated firearms and ammunition industries from lawsuits that arise from the criminal or unlawful misuse of their products. Of course, the courts should have been dismissing these types of cases before 2005 based on a long history of common law; but since some activist judges were refusing to do so, Congress stepped in. No one believes Ford should be sued when a person misuses one of its cars and kills someone while drunk driving, but somehow some members of Congress believe a manufacturer should be financially responsible when one person murders another with its legal and non-defective firearm.
Contrary to what has been touted by anti-gun Democrats as “unprecedented” protection and “full” immunity for firearms and ammunition companies, the PLCAA specifically does not prohibit all lawsuits against these industries. There are specific exceptions that allow for traditional products liability, breach of warranty and some negligence based claims to be filed. If someone is injured by a defective firearm or because the firearm was knowingly sold illegally by a licensed dealer, the PLCAA is no barrier to filing a lawsuit.
The “Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act,” proposed by U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calf.) and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), notorious anti-gun legislators, is designed to repeal the PLCAA. However, Rep. Schiff’s summary of this legislation completely mischaracterizes the scope and effect of the PLCAA. He states, the PLCAA “provides immunity in both state and federal court from civil liability … in most negligence and product liability actions.” This statement is categorically false as all product liability claims are permitted so long as the injury was not caused by “a volitional act that constituted a criminal offense.” With this false premise, the foundational support for this proposed new law crumbles. In essence, Rep. Schiff, Sen. Blumenthal and all co-sponsors of these bills simply want to allow an avalanche of lawsuits against the firearms industry with the hope that they will bankrupt the very companies that provide all citizens with the tools to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
Unfortunately, the “Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act” goes beyond just permitting frivolous lawsuits. If enacted as written, this bill would allow plaintiffs to “subpoena and introduce gun trace data” to “establish a pattern of negligent behavior on the part of a firearm maker or dealer.” When a firearm is recovered by law enforcement, it is often traced so that the investigating agency can determine the original owner of the firearm. However, anti-gun groups tried to use compilations of this data to show that manufacturers with large numbers of traces were somehow improperly or negligently distributing their products. Congress put a stop to this improper and statistically invalid use of the data through the Tiahrt Amendment, by prohibiting ATF from spending valuable time and resources responding to plaintiffs’ attorneys’ subpoenas and Freedom of Information Act requests. This new bill would open the floodgates and not only allow for this information to be produced, but also be used in court as “proof” against the firearms industry.
Renzulli Law Firm has been on the forefront of utilizing the PLCAA to protect the firearm industry from frivolous lawsuits that qualify under the Act for dismissal. We will continue to monitor the progress of all attempts by federal and state legislatures to remove these protections. If you have any questions concerning the PLCAA, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.