On April 14, 2023, the State of Washington’s legislature passed Substitute Senate Bill 5078 (“SB 5078”). This bill is expected to be signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee. The new law is designed to avoid the application of a federal law, which prohibits lawsuits against firearms industry members when their legally sold products are used by criminals to injure or kill others. Washington State’s legislature is attempting to place blame on the firearm industry for wrongful acts committed by criminals. With no evidence of wrongdoing, the legislature “declared” that firearm industry members’ business practices are “irresponsible, dangerous and unlawful.” Based on this false narrative, SB 5078 then creates a right to commence a lawsuit against a firearms industry member by the Washington Attorney General or any member of the public for harm associated with the creation of a “public nuisance.” Further, the bill places a duty on the firearms industry to implement “reasonable controls,” which the bill defines as “reasonable procedures, safeguards, and business practices, including but not limited to screening, security, and inventory practices, that are designed and implemented to . . . prevent the sale . . . of a firearm” to straw purchasers, firearm traffickers, and persons prohibited from possessing a firearm, or presenting as a danger to oneself or others. A violation of this ambiguous and ill-defined standard would then be deemed the “proximate cause” of the harm. Moreover, SB 5078 specifically sets forth that “intervening actions, including but not limited to criminal actions by third parties,” are not relevant to the issue of whether the firearm industry member committed a violation. This bill could be interpreted to apply strict liability to FFLs when the firearms they sell to the public in Washington State are later misused to injure someone.
Similar laws have recently been passed in New York, Delaware, and New Jersey, and are being challenged in federal court by the NSSF and various industry members as unconstitutional and in violation of federal law. We expect a similar legal challenge to SB 5078.
New Washington DC Bill Introduced
On April 11, 2023, District of Columbia Ward 5 Council member Zachary Parker posted a tweet detailing his introduction of a new bill entitled the “Establishment of Reasonable Controls for the Firearm Industry Amendment Act of 2023.” This bill mirrors SB 5078 in that it places unreasonable and vague “duties” upon the firearms industry, and then creates a cause of action for a violation of this standard. The bill is available here: https://t.co/mePEenCghL.
Renzulli Law Firm, LLP will continue to monitor new and developing firearms legislation and regulation around the country. If you have any questions concerning firearms related legislation or regulation, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.