James successfully defends NY’s right to hold gun manufacturers responsible for gun violence

Buffalo Supermarket Shooting
New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a service at True Bethel Baptist Church on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Associated Press/Joshua Bessex/File

New York Attorney General, Letitia James on Wednesday welcomed a federal court’s dismissal of a lawsuit from a group of gun manufacturers and sellers challenging a New York law that gives the attorney general the ability to hold gun manufacturers and sellers responsible for gun violence.

“As we mourn the deaths of 19 innocent children lost to gun violence in Uvalde and the countless more in Buffalo and across America every day, this is a moment of light and hope,” James told Caribbean Life. “New York is proud to defend the right to impose reasonable gun restrictions that protect all of us.

“As public officials, we were elected to solve problems and address the needs of the people,” she added. “Prayers alone will no longer do, and cowardliness is not part of the job description. New York will always lead, and I urge others with a backbone to follow.”

In July 2021, New York state passed the public nuisance bill (S.7196/A.6762), which restores the ability of the state and localities to bring civil liability actions against firearm manufacturers and sellers for their own bad conduct.

In 2005, Congress took unprecedented action to usurp states’ rights and give gun manufacturers and distributors blanket immunity for gun violence perpetrated as a direct result of their marketing and distribution of firearms.

This law combats that federal overreach and provides New York the ability to protect its own citizens.

On Dec. 16, 2021, 14 gun industry members and a trade association, initiated a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York against Attorney General James generally alleging that N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law §§ 898-a–e is unconstitutional.

Along with the complaint, plaintiffs also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on the same date.’

On Feb. 18, 2022, James filed a motion to dismiss all of plaintiffs’ claims.

On July 6, 2021, New York enacted a law to hold gun industry members civilly liable for “public nuisance[s],” N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law §§ 898-a–e (“§ 898”).

Specifically, the law states that no gun industry member, by conduct either unlawful in itself or unreasonable under all the circumstances shall knowingly or recklessly create, maintain or contribute to a condition in New York state that endangers the safety or health of the public through the sale, manufacturing, importing or marketing of a qualified product.

The law also states that all gun industry members who manufacture, market, import or offer for wholesale or retail sale any qualified product in New York state shall establish and utilize reasonable controls and procedures to prevent its qualified products from being possessed, used, marketed or sold unlawfully in New York state.

Additionally, the law specifically states that violation of either provision resulting in “harm to the public,” regardless of “whether the gun industry member acted for the purpose of causing harm to the public,” is deemed by the statute a public nuisance.

Sect. 898 is enforced by the New York Attorney General, “a city corporation counsel on behalf of the locality,” or “[a]ny person, firm, corporation or association that has been damaged as a result of a gun industry member’s acts or omissions in violation of this article.”

In fling a complaint and a motion for a preliminary injunction, the plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that Sect. 898 is unconstitutional and an injunction enjoining defendant from enforcing the act.

Plaintiffs argued that Sect. 898 is unconstitutional for three reasons: It is preempted by the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”), 15 U.S.C. § 5921; it violates the dormant Commerce Clause; and it is void for vagueness.

But the district court ruled that, “after careful review of the record, the parties’ submissions, and the applicable law, and for the above-stated reasons, the court hereby orders defendant’s motion to dismiss.”

The court further ordered that plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction “denied.”

Brooklyn State Sen. Zellnor Y. Myrie (D-Central Brooklyn), who had sponsored the gun manufacturer liability legislation, hailed the court’s ruling.

“These have been a dark two weeks. Black people slain while shopping in Buffalo, a commuter shot dead on the train I take every week in Brooklyn, and children mercilessly massacred in Texas,” said Myrie, who represents the 20th Senate District. “We’ve needed some good news in the fight to end gun violence, and the court’s decision today is just that.

“We passed this first-in-the-nation law for one reason: to protect New Yorkers from gun violence and hold bad actors in the gun industry who help facilitate that violence accountable,” he added. “I am glad to see that the court agreed with us and commend our Attorney General for vigorously defending the constitutionality of the law and her ability to hold these bad actors accountable.

“The gun industry has put their profits over our lives for too long,” Myrie continued. “New Yorkers are tired of bending to their will, and the court’s decision today is another step in the direction of justice for all who have been impacted by gun violence.

“I hope every state in the nation is paying attention – federal inaction is not an excuse,” he said. “This is your moment to step up. Together, with Assemblymember Fahy, impacted families, community leaders, and incredible advocates like New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Giffords, Everytown for Gun Safety, Brady, and many more, we stood up the gun industry and won. I hope today’s ruling inspires every American to do the same.”

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