WASHINGTON–Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) led a group of fifty-six lawmakers including U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) in reintroducing the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act to ensure that the gun industry – including manufacturers, sellers and interest groups – can be held accountable when it acts with negligence and disregard for public safety. The bill would repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), allowing victims of gun violence to pursue justice in court.
Blumenthal and Schiff announced the bill earlier today in a virtual press conference.
During a Rose Garden event announcing new gun safety measures earlier this month, President Biden identified repealing the gun industry’s liability shield as his top priority for curbing gun violence:
"Most people don’t realize: The only industry in America, billion-dollar industry, that can’t be sued, exempt from being sued, are gun manufacturers. Imagine how different it would be had that same exemption been available to tobacco companies, who knew and lied about the danger they were causing. If I get one thing on my list, [if] Lord came down and said, ‘Joe, you get one of these,’ give me that one, because I tell you what, there would be a come-to-the-Lord moment these folks would have, real quickly."
“With the gun violence prevention movement growing stronger every day and the gun lobby weaker than ever, the days of giving gun manufacturers license to kill are over. Legislation to take away their immunity and put the safety of Americans first is a no brainer,” said Murphy.
“A manufacturer or seller who knows they will be held legally responsible for knowingly distributing dangerous or defective products will change the way they conduct their business. This basic truism applies to almost every industry in America - but not to the gun industry,” said Blumenthal. “It is unconscionable that one of the most dangerous industries in America is also one of the only industries that is exempt from this basic principle of accountability. Our simple measure will give victims of gun violence their day in court and unlock the doors to justice —repealing the sweetheart liability deal that Congress granted to the gun lobby.”
“2021 is shaping up to be the deadliest year on record for gun violence, with thousands of Americans injured or killed by firearms this year alone. We must not resign ourselves to a return of this tragic new “normal” as the pandemic eases in parts of the country. We need to demand more of government and the private sector, including the manufacturers and dealers of firearms. If any other industry’s product enabled such violence and tragedy, they’d rightfully face accountability, and the gun industry should be no different,” said Schiff. “We cannot prevent every mass shooting with one single measure, but ensuring that the gun industry can be held accountable when it negligently sells weapons to criminals or any who are barred from purchase, and that gun violence victims get their day in court, is a critical piece of a comprehensive approach. And with President Biden’s support, I’m hopeful we can finally get it over the finish line.”
In 2005, Congress passed PLCAA, providing immunity for gun manufacturers, distributors, and dealers that protects them from most negligence and products liability actions in both state and federal court. Despite guns’ lethal capacity, the firearm industry enjoys a special shield from civil liability. As a result, gun makers and sellers have a lesser obligation to act with reasonable care for the safety of the public. It also means that gun sellers can turn a blind eye to straw purchasers or traffickers who may buy hundreds of weapons and traffic them to others without background checks.
“The Protection of the Lawful Commerce in Arms Act remains a notorious stain on our nation’s history and a damaging law on its books,” said Brady President Kris Brown. “This law has been interpreted to provide the gun industry an unprecedented and undeserved shield from rightful accountability. The Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act is a needed step to ensuring that the victims of gun violence can hold the companies and actors who facilitate this public health crisis accountable. Over 300 people are shot in our country every day. It’s far past time that they can demand justice and change from the companies that allow that to happen. Brady thanks Sen. Blumenthal and Rep. Schiff for introducing this essential bill.”
“PLCAA is a gun lobby giveaway that bars most legal cases against reckless members of the gun industry that refuse to take even the most basic steps to prevent criminals from getting armed,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “If the tobacco industry enjoyed the same protections as the gun industry, Joe Camel would still be pitching cigarettes to kids. This law has fueled America’s deadly gun violence crisis, and we applaud Senator Blumenthal and Representative Schiff for answering President Biden’s call to action and introducing this bill.”
“No industry should be above the law, and it’s time for Congress to take the power back,” said Lindsay Nichols, Federal Policy Director at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “For far too long, the gun industry and its lobbyists convinced politicians that they deserved to operate without fear of ever being held responsible in a courtroom. Today, we are proud to stand with Senator Blumenthal and Representative Schiff in saying this cannot continue and thank them for reintroducing the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act. Repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act will empower survivors of gun violence to seek justice for their lost loved ones and finally hold the gun industry accountable."
“For far too long, the gun industry has enjoyed a sweetheart deal from Congress that allows manufacturers and gun sellers to duck liability for the tragedy and pain their products cause every day,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “I am grateful that Senator Blumenthal is yet again demonstrating his leadership to stop the American epidemic of gun violence. Treating the gun industry just like any other industry in the United States will allow Americans to hold gun manufacturers accountable and represents a big step forward for gun violence prevention. I look forward to seeing the full Senate vote on this legislation to keep our communities safe.”
“Carving out special legal exemptions for gun manufacturers, distributors, and dealers takes away the rights of victims of gun violence to challenge problematic practices and actions taken by the gun industry in court,” said Mark Barden, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise and father of Daniel, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. “Repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) is long overdue, and we thank Senator Blumenthal for his leadership in introducing the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act.”
"Repealing PLCAA has been one of our top priorities since 26 children and educators were senselessly shot and killed with an AR-15 in our elementary school. Congress acted recklessly when it passed a law that protected the gun industry from nearly all lawsuits. All families and survivors who have been directly impacted by the heartbreaking gun violence crisis in our nation deserve to have their day in the court to seek justice,” said Po Murray, Chairwoman of Newtown Action Alliance and The Newtown Action Alliance Foundation. “Repealing PLCAA would also force the firearm and ammunition manufacturers to produce safer products and deter deceptive and dangerous marketing practices."
When Congress passed PLCAA, its supporters argued that it was necessary to protect the gun industry from frivolous lawsuits, and that victims of gun violence would not be shut out of the courts. In reality, numerous cases around the nation have been dismissed on the basis of PLCAA, even when the gun dealers and manufacturers acted in a fashion that would qualify as negligent if it involved any other product. Victims in these cases were denied the right to even discover or introduce evidence. This legislation allows civil cases to go forward against irresponsible bad actors.
In 2005, the National Rifle Association (NRA) identified PLCAA as their “number one” legislative priority, and the NRA celebrated the passage calling it the “most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in twenty years.” Letting courts hear these cases would provide justice to victims and their families, while creating incentives for responsible business practices that would reduce injuries and deaths. Effectively, the gun industry would once again be subject to the same laws as every other industry, just as it was prior to 2005.
To read the one page background document on the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, please click here. To read the legislation, please click here. Click the following links to read background on PLCAA from the Center for American Progress and the Giffords Law Center.
Blumenthal and Schiff and first introduced legislation repealing PLCAA during the 113th Congress.
The legislation introduced by Schiff, Blumenthal, and Murphy today is co-sponsored by U.S. Representatives Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), Karen Bass (D-CA), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-VA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Brendan F. Boyle (D-PA), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Cori Bush (D-MO), Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA), Jason Crow (D-CO), Val B. Demings (D-FL), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), John B. Larson (D-CT), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Marie Newman (D-IL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Jamie Raskin (D-MA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), Thomas R. Suozzi (D-NY), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), and Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL).
It is also co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Bob Casey (D-PA).