New Jersey is gearing up to hold the gun industry accountable in cases where prosecutors say firearm companies have hurt state residents.
Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said Monday that he is creating a new office to file the lawsuits.
“With the establishment of this office we are sending a clear message to every participant in the firearms industry: if you violate our laws, you will pay.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation earlier this month that lets the state attorney general sue gunmakers and sellers whose business practices threaten people’s health or safety. New York recently passed a similar measure allowing anyone in the state to bring civil action against the gun industry for irresponsible marketing, or sales strategies that pose a risk to the public.
Since New York’s law took effect, a victim of the subway shooting has used it to sue the gun manufacturer Glock. The law has also paved the way for cases against companies illegally selling so-called ghost guns – kits that allow buyers to assemble their own firearms without going through a background check. Attorney General Letitia James and Mayor Eric Adams have both brought civil complaints against these “ghost gun” retailers.
While lawsuits against the firearm industry used to be common, a 2005 federal law brought the legal strategy to a near-complete halt for years. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act barred civil law suits against gun companies, except in a handful of cases.
A growing number of lawmakers and victims of gun violence have pursued strategies to circumvent the federal law in recent years. In February, the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims settled with the gun manufacturer Remington, after arguing that the company’s marketing strategy broke Connecticut law. That settlement, though short of a guilty verdict at trial, has been deemed a turning point by some legal experts. Others are more critical of these tactics and believe gun companies need extra protection.
“It becomes sort of this vague determination of bad public policy principles,” Amy Swearer, a legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Gothamist when discussing different plaintiffs’ strategies to hold the firearm industry accountable after the subway shooting victim filed her lawsuit.
“You’re essentially arguing that even though you advertised the gun in a lawful way, you did it in an immoral way, and therefore somehow this induced people to buy the gun, to use it to attack civilians, and now you’re responsible ,” she said.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation and multiple members of the gun industry have tried to block New York’s law in court. A judge rejected their claim in May. The groups plan to appeal.