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Verdicts & Settlements

Judge: New York Can Pursue Civil Lawsuits Against Negligent Gun Companies

— May 25, 2022

A federal judge found that a lawsuit targeting a recently enacted New York law was impermissibly “vague” and otherwise invalid.

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit from firearm advocacy groups, filed against a New York law that would permit civil lawsuits against gun companies that endanger public safety.

According to CNN, U.S. District Judge Mae D’Agostino of the Northern District of New York rejected the organizations’ argument that the state’s law violates the Second Amendment.

In her ruling, the Obama-appointed judge found that New York’s existing law does not pre-empt or circumvent a 2005 federal statute limiting gunmakers’ liability. Citing several appellate court rulings, D’Agostino said that the New York law makes use of permissible exceptions to hold firearm manufacturers accountable for misconduct.

D’Agostino also dismissed claims that Albany violated the Commerce Clause by “discriminating” against in-state competitors, as well as an allegation that the state was trying to regulate firearm sales and distribution outside its own borders.

New York Attorney General and former city council member Letitia James. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Matthew Cohen. (CCA-BY-2.0).

The firearm groups’ complaint, D’Agostino added, was also vague to the point of being impermissible.

New York Attorney General Letitia James quickly issued a statement praising the ruling as a necessary victory.

“As we mourn the deaths of 19 innocent children lost to gun violence in Uvalde and the countless more in Buffalo and across America, this is a moment of light and hope,” James said in a statement. “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.”

James had earlier signaled she might use New York’s law—which allows the Office of the State Attorney General to file lawsuits against firearm makers and dealers in other jurisdictions—to pursue recompense and punitive damages against the manufacturer of the weapon used in the Buffalo shooting.

The Buffalo shooting, which left 10 dead in May, was orchestrated by an 18-year-old who explicitly targeted African-Americans.

“All I can say to you is that there’s an ongoing investigation and we are developing some facts,” James told Spectrum Local News. “So until such time as we develop a fact pattern and we could identify some specific targets that engaged in negligence, then we will take action.”

However, firearms advocates have already criticized both the state’s new law and James’ intent on holding gun companies accountable for potential misconduct.

“How can you control something that you’ve sold that is in the hands of an individual? That’s the most ludicrous idea I’ve ever heard,” said Tom King, executive director of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. “You can’t control a product once it’s out. Can you control someone from driving recklessly or not in a car? Does the manufacturer have to have responsibility? No.”

James, adds Spectrum, says that the law does not allow the state to simply sue firearm manufacturers whose weapons have been used in crimes—it requires the Attorney General to identify and demonstrate a so-called pattern of nuisances to meet the legal threshold necessary for success.


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