Victims of gun crimes hold the gun industry accountable – by suing them | Gun control in the United States

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With each massacre of innocents, the gun industry offers sympathy, argues that even more guns will make America safer, and thanks for a two-decade-old law protecting gunmakers prosecution of victims.

Mike Fifer, the chief executive of one of America’s leading handgun manufacturers, Sturm Ruger, once described the Protection of Lawful Arms Trade Act of 2005 (PLCAA) as having saved the firearms industry because it halted a wave of lawsuits against the reckless marketing and sale of firearms.

But now victims of gun crime are following an alternative path forged by lawsuits against cigarette companies, prescription opioid makers and big oil companies in an effort to circumvent the PLCAA – and the lack of political will to act on gun control – to keep the gun industry in check. responsible for the blood toll of its products.

On Tuesday, Ilene Steur, seriously injured when a man fired 33 shots on the New York City subway in April, injuring 10 people, filed a complaint accusing the maker of the semi-automatic pistol used in the attack, Glock, of breaking “public nuisance” laws.

Steur’s lawsuit argues that Glock endangered public health and safety in violation of New York State law with an irresponsible marketing campaign to push the “high capacity and ease of concealment” of his weapon in an “appeal to potential buyers with criminal intent”.

He also accuses Glock of giving deep discounts to US police departments on gun purchases to “give guns credibility” in the larger, more lucrative civilian market.

“Weapons manufacturers don’t live in a bubble,” said Mark Shirian, Steur’s attorney. “They are aware that their marketing strategies empower malicious buyers and endanger the lives of innocent people. This lawsuit aims to hold the firearms industry accountable.

The public nuisance strategy has been used against the tobacco industry for lying about the link between cigarettes and lung cancer, and with mixed success against pharmaceutical companies for creating the opioid epidemic in the United States. United in recklessly pushing prescription opioids.

Public nuisance claims are also at the heart of a series of lawsuits from states and municipalities accusing oil companies of covering up and lying about the role fossil fuels are playing in driving the climate crisis.

Until recently, the firearms industry believed the PLCAA provided a shield against similar actions. The National Rifle Association persuaded a Republican-controlled Congress to pass the law after the families of those shot dead by the sniper who terrorized the Washington DC area for three weeks in 2002, killing 10 people, won a total of $2.5 million from the gun maker, Bushmaster and the store that sold the gun.

But a lawsuit brought by the families of 20 young children and six staff members murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre sought to exploit an exception in the PLCAA if a firearm was sold in violation. of “applicable” state or federal law, in this case a public nuisance. and consumer protection legislation.

The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the argument that the PLCAA did not protect the gunmaker from being sued for violating state laws for irresponsible militaristic marketing campaigns for its semi-automatic rifles aimed at young men. Remington appealed to the United States Supreme Court which declined to take the case while it was still in litigation. In February, Remington settled for $73 million.

Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting survivor Jordan Gomes stands next to Senator Richard Blumenthal during a community rally in Uvalde, Texas, after a mass shooting at the elementary school from Robb. Photo: Bryan Woolston/Reuters

Around the time the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Sandy Hook families, New York introduced the law Steur relies on that expands public nuisance law to cover crimes committed with firearms. fire. On Wednesday, a federal district judge in New York rejected an attempt by the gun industry to strike down the law on the grounds that it preempted the PLCAA.

Timothy Lytton, specialist in gun litigation at Georgia State University School of Law and author of Suing the Gun Industry, expects the validity of New York law and the assertion that public nuisance legislation is an exception to the protection granted to the firearms industry be appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

“Probably the most important thing for the Supreme Court to decide with respect to gun litigation is the scope of federal immunity law and whether the exception relied on by the Sandy Hook plaintiffs is or not a viable legal theory. If it’s a viable legal theory, then I think you’re likely to see an upsurge in litigation,” he said.

But, Lytton said, lawsuits against the gun industry face an additional challenge because of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment and the rights it affords gun owners. fire, a legal area that has yet to be more widely tested.

“There are limits to the ability to sue a newspaper for defamation because of the First Amendment. The Second Amendment may have similar restrictions on the ability of individuals to hold the gun maker accountable. But we don’t know what those restrictions might be because we have very little guidance from the Supreme Court as to what the Second Amendment actually protects other than a basic right for an individual to own a firearm that ‘he can use for ordinary purposes,’ he said. said.

Yet, as litigation against the tobacco, opioid and petroleum industries demonstrates, the purpose of litigation is not just to win in court. After each killing spree, the gun industry typically seeks to blame the individual shooter and the failure of systems, such as mental health services. Lytton said the lawsuits put the spotlight back on the actions of gunmakers and forced a public debate about how they sell guns.

“The impact of litigation is not just about who wins and who loses. These are the framing, information disclosure, and agenda setting effects that the litigation process creates even if plaintiffs lose. A good example of this is clergy sexual abuse.

“Almost none of those cases were won, and almost none of them went to a jury. But they revolutionized the world church because of those three effects of litigation,” he said.

Two decades of litigation over the opioid epidemic in the United States that has claimed more than a million lives has diverted attention from the pharmaceutical industry’s attempt to blame victims for their addiction on the responsibility of large pharmaceutical companies for pushing for the widespread use of prescription narcotics despite the dangers. Very embarrassing revelations in several court cases about the cynical marketing techniques of pharmaceutical companies have helped opioid manufacturers and distributors settle thousands of lawsuits over the opioid epidemic.

Likewise, states and cities suing the oil industry for lying about the climate crisis hope that public disclosure of what fossil fuel companies knew and when they knew it will add to the pressure on big corporations. oil companies to achieve settlements.

But Lytton warned the strategy may not have the same impact on gunsmiths.
“There is something very different about firearms. When it comes to tobacco or opioids or pretty much any other area of ​​public policy in the United States, people tend to reconsider their views and start to rethink the issue,” he said. -he declares.

“The only place in American public policy where this is not true is in gun violence. As terrible as the tragedy is, people tend to engage even more in opinions than they already have.

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