Californians will soon have a chance to sue the gun industry

One of the strangest laws ever enacted in California went into effect in January. 1, giving state residents and visitors the same power to threaten the gun industry that Texans now wield over abortion providers.

Even defenders of the law say that’s not entirely good.

SB 1327 authorizes anyone other than state or local officials to sue people who violate state laws against the manufacture, distribution, or sale of assault weapons, pistols, and other prohibited firearms. Lawsuits could also be brought against gun dealers who violate state law against selling or transferring guns (other than hunting rifles) to under-21s.

Supporters say this “private right of action” will make tough state gun control measures more effective by enlisting an army of grassroots executives. And by barring state and local governments from filing SB 1327 lawsuits, they hope to make the law harder to challenge in court.

However, the law also exists to make a point.

Gov. Gavin Newsom sought the measure in response to Texas’ SB 8, which empowers “any person” to sue those who knowingly perform or assist in an abortion in that state after the fetus shows signs of cardiac activity. When the Supreme Court refused to throw out SB 8, Newsom (who criticized it heavily) called for California to use it as a model for a new approach to gun control.

Some gun rights advocates have called California’s law “performance legislation,” but Craig Peters, a partner at Altair Law in San Francisco and former president of the Consumer Advocates of California, said SB 1327 “marks the absurd” of Texas’ approach and the bad precedent it set. With the new law, he said, California is showing the rest of the country — and the Supreme Court — how SB 8’s controversial methods can be applied to other rights.

SB 1327 is already hitting some of the legal points desired by its supporters.

In December On Dec. 19, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez in San Diego struck down part of SB 1327 on constitutional grounds: the “tariff-shifting” provision that would have imposed on industry litigants arms all or part of the legal costs of any suit challenging the arms of the state. controls, even if they prevailed in the courts. The state attorney general’s office had declined to defend it, having argued that the Texas rate-shifting provision on which it was based was unconstitutional.

After Benitez handed down his sentence, Newsom issued a statement saying the judge had “confirmed” that the Texas law was also unconstitutional.

The rest of SB 1327 remains in effect, including the private right of action. Officials from the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the California Rifle and Pistol Assn. said they are waiting to see how the law is used and had no plans to preemptively challenge it.

Here’s a rundown of how SB 1327 is expected to work, at least until the courts change the legal landscape.

Who can be sued?

The answer depends on the violation of state law in question.

Lawsuits can be brought against anyone in California who manufactures, distributes, transports, imports, offers, sells, or even gives away an assault weapon, .50 caliber Browning machine gun, or firearm without a serial number. So someone who knowingly builds an assault weapon for a customer in California, sells one to someone in the state, or delivers it to a buyer here could be sued.

Californians who buy assault weapons cannot be sued under the new law. But if you buy a ghost gun kit, or more technically, firearm precursor parts that aren’t federally regulated, you could be liable.

SB 1327 states that people who knowingly engage in conduct that helps someone else violate these restrictions could also be sued, even if they didn’t know the person they were helping would violate the law. So, too, could lawsuits be brought against anyone who sells, offers, or transfers unregulated weapons precursor parts.

For cases involving the sale of firearms in California to purchasers under the age of 21, lawsuits could only be filed against the licensed gun dealers involved.

Larry Keane, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, stressed that lawsuits under SB 1327 were limited to illegal conduct in California. His group would consider “if someone tried to assert a claim against people outside of California for lawful conduct that occurs outside of California,” he said.

For example, Keane said, imagine an AR-15 legally manufactured in Connecticut, legally shipped to a dealer in Louisiana and a retailer in Nevada, then legally sold to someone in that state. If the gun somehow made its way into California and is misused, he said, SB 1327 would not allow you to sue the out-of-state manufacturer, dealer or retailer that complies with its state and federal laws; Instead, you could only sue the person or persons violating California law.

What can trigger a lawsuit?

This is where things get really interesting. According to the law, any “act or omission” that violates the restrictions of SB 1327 constitutes an injury “to all residents and visitors of this state.”

In other words, you can sue even if you haven’t been directly harmed. In fact, you can sue even if no one suffers physical injury or financial damage; it is enough to show that someone violated the act’s gun controls, for example by knowingly selling an assault weapon to someone in California or buying a phantom gun. within the borders of the state.

You also don’t have to have a personal connection to the violation; you just have to be able to prove that it took place. For example, you might learn about an apparently illegal sale of an assault weapon to a buyer in California by reading a newspaper story about a shooting, then use court documents and other public records to try to make your case. against the seller.

Keane said it was “still an open question” whether “someone uninjured would have been to pursue a claim as a private individual”. Peters agreed that the battle over this issue was yet to come, and would likely reach the Supreme Court.

Until then, however, SB 1327 allows almost anyone to file lawsuits, without having to prove that they had personally suffered any harm.

What are the potential damages you could collect?

If the lawsuit is successful, the law requires the defendant to pay the plaintiff at least $10,000 per gun or firearm part that violates SB 1327, plus pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and court costs. plaintiff

Claims must be filed within four years of the actions that violate the law. And while any number of people could sue someone for the same infringement, only one plaintiff can collect damages for it.

You can file an SB 1327 lawsuit in your home county, the county where a “substantial part” of the violation(s) occurred, the county where the defendant lives, or, if it’s a business, where its main office

What defenses does the law offer?

Under SB 1327, defendants accused of helping someone violate the law can argue that they “reasonably believed, after conducting a reasonable investigation,” that the person they helped was acting lawfully.

Otherwise, the law provides a long list of defenses that cannot be pleaded, starting with ignorance or understanding of the law. Nor can someone escape liability by arguing that they believed the law was unconstitutional. Also off the table: arguing that the firearm in question was not used or intended to be used illegally.

Finally, defendants cannot try to avoid liability by claiming that the measure violates someone else’s 2nd Amendment rights unless the Supreme Court allows them. And even then, the law states, they would have to show that the relief sought by the suit would violate a Second Amendment right “clearly established” by Supreme Court decisions.

What kind of dresses can we see?

Peters said it’s unclear at this point how the law will be used. “We still have a long way to go to figure out how to make this law work” to make communities safer, he said, adding, “There’s probably a lot more unknown than known.”

If I had to guess, he said, the first targets of SB 1327 lawsuits will likely be companies that make and sell ghost gun equipment in California. A number of lawsuits have already been filed against those defendants by people who were shot by someone with a phantom gun, Peters said, and those plaintiffs could add claims based on SB 1327 to their cases.

But that claim could also be brought in a stand-alone lawsuit by someone who learned of an illegal phantom gun sale in California by seeing a news report. (Firearms are required to have serial numbers in California, which kits do not; manufacturers and sellers argue that they make and sell kits, not firearms.) According to Peters, it’s an easier case to carry when you just need to prove that one has broken the law, not that you have been personally harmed in any way.

Another issue for the new law is whether the gun controls were designed to enforce judicial scrutiny.

The Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn. vs. Bruen this year appeared to strike many state and local efforts to limit guns as unconstitutional. Not surprisingly, gun rights advocates are challenging state bans on assault weapons and the sale of firearms to people under 21, among other state gun controls.

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