BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Private citizens in California may be able to sue gun manufacturers or gun sellers if they are negligent in preventing illegal gun use.
Democratic legislators who introduced Assembly Bill 1594, said it is a response to a rise in homicides across the state.
They noted that in 2020 there were more than 2,000 homicides, many of which were due to gun use.
People across the state are able to come to shops like this one to purchase a firearm, and while there are extensive background check laws in place here in California, ultimately this law AB1594 aims to add another layer when it comes to accountability.
“He was expecting to send a message by massacring an assembly of Jewish adults, instead, he encountered small children who were there attending summer day camp. My 6-year-old son was one of the kids in the line of fire,” said Loren Lieb, Gun Violence Prevention Activist.
Calling it a uniquely American experience, for Loren Lieb, this legislation hits home, validating what she has been arguing since this happened to her family more than two decades ago.
Her son made it out alive but said the trauma from that shooting in Los Angeles has lasted a lifetime.
“The shooter was able to amass an arsenal of firearms and ammunition, even though he was a prohibited person, and he did this by exploiting weaknesses and loopholes in U.S. firearm regulation in an industry that does nothing to make sure its products don’t make their way into the criminal market,” said Lieb.
Lieb tried to sue the gun manufacturers but by the time her case was up for trial, a federal law, the protection of lawful commerce in arms act otherwise known as PLCAA was passed, essentially protecting firearm manufacturers and sellers from being held liable when crimes have been committed with their products.
This federal law is at the center of this issue. Now, AB 1594, or the Gun Industry Responsibility Act as it is being called, is still in the early stages here in California. The language is very vague, but state leaders did explain it mirrors a law already in place in New York.
“This policy would create that predicate exception that would allow people to pursue claims where the gun industry is acting a certain way, recklessly, negligently, irresponsibly, which is more comprehensive than the current statues in place in California. So, it will give more opportunity for people to pursue claims against the gun industry,” said Tanya Schardt, Brady Campaign.
But local gun seller, Dustin Pitcher, said if negligence is the defining factor, he is not worried about his business.
“You talk to any firearm dealer, we are legislated to death I mean it is really difficult to be in this business, we do everything by the book here, every seller in town that I know is very careful about that,” said Dustin Pitcher, owner of Dirty Bird Industries.
He explained that the Department of Justice has a lot of rules, and local law enforcement does inspections and makes sure warning signage is up.
“Folks want to exercise their right to own and use firearms in a safe and responsible manner and that is why we are here, to make sure people can do that and that is why we make sure we are being compliant,” said Pitcher.
California Democratic legislators who wrote the bill argue that despite strict regulations the state faces high homicide rates. Adding that a federal loophole makes it impossible for those affected by this gun violence to pursue legal action.
“Through federal law there is a legal shield for manufacturers, distributors, and dealers with irresponsible reckless, or negligent sales practices which have failed to innovate and make guns safer and contributes to the growth of illegal firearms in our communities,” said Christopher Ward, California Assembly Member 78th District.
However, Pitcher believes the real issue is there needs to be more law enforcement to apprehend criminals.
But legislators argue there needs to be a way to hold the gun industry accountable.
“The gun industry would like every California citizen to go purchase a gun to protect themselves. We don’t think that is really the best recourse, what we think is people need to have the ability to hold the industry accountable for all the guns legally and illegally that are being put on our streets and we think this bill achieves that,” said Phil Ting, California Assembly Member 19th District.
With that bill being in the early stages, legislators are working to finalize the language before starting the hearing process which they hope will begin this spring.