With the new year come and gone, California has passed a new law that will allow for state residents, as well as tourists, to file lawsuits against gun manufacturers. With mass shootings at schools, grocery stores, nightclubs, movie theaters, and so on, this new law perhaps takes the right step in mitigating further tragedies. While individuals should be held responsible for their violent actions, gun manufacturers and sellers need to be held accountable as well.
From the way gun manufacturers advertise to the often lax take on the laws and rules around buying a gun, California put into place a measure that might force gun shops and manufacturers to be more diligent in doing background checks, and directing their advertisements more responsibly. The thought is that if the sale of tobacco is regulated, and abortions are becoming highly restricted or even banned, California is taking the stand that guns should also be highly restricted and regulated.
What is the new law?
…authorizes anyone other than state or local government officials to sue people who violate the state’s laws against the manufacture, distribution or sale of assault weapons, ghost guns and other banned firearms. Lawsuits could also be brought against gun dealers who violate the state’s law against selling or transferring weapons (besides hunting rifles) to anyone under 21 years old.
Those who can be sued under this new law include “anyone in California who knowingly manufactures, distributes, transports, imports, offers, sells or even lends an assault weapon, .50-caliber Browning machine gun or firearm without a serial number.”
Californians who legally already own an assault rifle are not included under this new law, but if they buy or find themselves in possession of a “ghost gun” kit, then they can be held liable. Ghost gun kits are federally unregulated firearm parts required to build a gun, and their use over the past couple of years has sent weapons seizures skyrocketing, with more people dying from gun-related wounds.
Gun dealers who sell guns to people under the age of 21 can be held accountable, as well as anyone who assists in violating the laws of SB 1327. A store owner could be found liable for selling, offering or transferring unregulated gun precursor parts. It is important to note that a lawsuit can only be filed against parties who violated the law within the state of California. If the weapon is made in another state where the laws are different, but ends up in the hands of someone in California, the manufacturer cannot be sued as it is located out of state.
Who can file a lawsuit?
A lawsuit can be filed against anyone who violates SB 1327 so long as there is proof that a violation is taking/has taken place. For instance, if you know of a gun distributor that is selling assault rifles, they can be held liable. No physical injury needs to have occurred – knowledge and evidence alone can see the plaintiff securing compensation. This is because the law states that “any ‘act or omission’ that violates the strictures in SB 1327 constitute an injury ‘to all residents of, and visitors to, this state.’”
What damages can I secure from my lawsuit?
According to SB 1327, a plaintiff can be rewarded:
statutory damages in an amount of not less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) for each weapon or firearm precursor part as to which the defendant violated Section 22949.62, and for each weapon or firearm precursor part as to which the defendant aided or abetted a violation of Section 22949.62.
The statute of limitations on filing one of these lawsuits is four years from when the illegal actions were reported.
As for the manufacturers, distributors, and others who end up with a lawsuit on their hands, they have two defenses they can use: either the defendant “reasonably believed, after conducting a reasonable investigation, that the person aided or abetted was complying with this chapter,” or they “reasonably believed, after conducting a reasonable investigation, that the person was complying with this chapter or was aiding or abetting another who was complying with this chapter.”
The law seems to be strict, but it may be what is needed to lower the rising rates of gun violence. In Washington alone “810 Washingtonians are killed by guns, a rate of 10.5 per 100,000 people,” as reported by the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. We are certainly interested in seeing how California does or doesn’t change with this new law. If it can protect our community, then it’s worth exploring more and in other states.
Philbrook Law Office has helped clients to stand up to gun manufacturers who show reckless disregard for the lives of the vulnerable around us. Contact us in Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA to learn more about your legal options. Please call us or fill out our contact form. Proudly serving Washington State.