Crow Reintroduces Legislation to Give Gun Victims Their Day in Court

April 22, 2021
Press Release
Legislation Would Repeal Liability Shield Protecting Gun Sellers and Manufacturers; Parents of Aurora Theater Shooting Victim Went Bankrupt After Trying to Sue the Gun Dealer

WASHINGTON - Today, Reps. Jason Crow (CO-06), Adam Schiff (CA-28), and Dwight Evans (PA-03) alongside Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), reintroduced the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act to ensure that the gun industry – including manufacturers, sellers and interest groups – can be held accountable when it acts with negligence and disregard for public safety. The bill would repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), allowing victims of gun violence to pursue justice in court.

“Our nation is suffering from a gun violence epidemic and yet gun manufacturers are shielded from liability.  This is wrong and it has to end.  When Congress passed PLCAA in 2005, they removed any incentive for gun manufacturers to make their products safer, putting private profit ahead of public safety,” said Congressman Jason Crow. “We saw families go bankrupt in our community after the Aurora Theater shooting because they tried to hold bad actors accountable. The Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act creates a level playing field so survivors can have their day in court.”

“2021 is shaping up to be the deadliest year on record for gun violence, with thousands of Americans injured or killed by firearms this year alone. We must not resign ourselves to a return of this tragic new “normal” as the pandemic eases in parts of the country. We need to demand more of government and the private sector, including the manufacturers and dealers of firearms. If any other industry’s product enabled such violence and tragedy, they’d rightfully face accountability, and the gun industry should be no different,” said Rep. Adam Schiff. “We cannot prevent every mass shooting with one single measure, but ensuring that the gun industry can be held accountable when it negligently sells weapons to criminals or any who are barred from purchase, and that gun violence victims get their day in court, is a critical piece of a comprehensive approach. And with President Biden’s support, I’m hopeful we can finally get it over the finish line.”

“A manufacturer or seller who knows they will be held legally responsible for knowingly distributing dangerous or defective products will change the way they conduct their business. This basic truism applies to almost every industry in America - but not to the gun industry,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “It is unconscionable that one of the most dangerous industries in America is also one of the only industries that is exempt from this basic principle of accountability. Our simple measure will give victims of gun violence their day in court and unlock the doors to justice —repealing the sweetheart liability deal that Congress granted to the gun lobby.”

“On Tuesday, the police officer who held his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds was held accountable for his actions when he was convicted of murder in a court of law. However, this conviction isn’t the end of our effort to hold those accountable for violence against people of color. It’s just the beginning. This bill is another step in that quest,” said Rep. Dwight Evans. “Gun manufacturers built the guns that killed nearly 500 of my brothers and sisters in Philadelphia last year—the most in three decades. Yet, victims and survivors can’t hold these manufacturers accountable in a court of law because a Bush-era law gives them near-total immunity.”

In 2005, Congress passed PLCAA, providing immunity for gun manufacturers, distributors, and dealers that protects them from most negligence and product liability actions in both state and federal court on the grounds that it would protect the gun industry from frivolous lawsuits. In reality, numerous cases around the nation have been dismissed on the basis of PLCAA, meaning the firearm industry enjoys a special shield from civil liability despite the lethal capacity of their products. As a result, gun makers and sellers have a lesser obligation to act with reasonable care for the safety of the public. It also means that gun sellers can turn a blind eye to straw purchasers or traffickers who may buy hundreds of weapons and traffic them to others without background checks. 

The Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act allows civil cases to go forward against irresponsible bad actors. Letting courts hear these cases would provide justice to victims and their families, while enabling courts to create incentives for responsible business practices through settlement agreements that would reduce injuries and deaths. Effectively, the gun industry would once again be subject to the same laws as every other industry, just as it was prior to 2005.

During a Rose Garden event announcing new gun safety measures earlier this month, President Biden identified repealing the gun industry’s liability shield as his top priority for curbing gun violence. 

In Colorado, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, the parents of Jessi Ghawi who was killed in the Aurora Theater shooting, went bankrupt in their attempt to sue Lucky Gunner, the ammunition dealer who sold $4,000 worth of weapons without a background check. After losing their lawsuit, the Phillips owed over $200,000 in legal fees to Lucky Gunner.

The legislation is endorsed by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Giffords, Everytown for Gun Safety, Guns Down America, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Sandy Hook Promise, and Newtown Action Alliance.

To read the one page background document on the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, please click here. To read the legislation, please click here. Click the following links to read background on PLCAA from the Center for American Progress and the Giffords Law Center.