NSSF Score Legal Victory in California

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has won an important victory against the state of California. US District Judge Andrew Schopler granted the NSSF’s request for a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of California AB (Assembly Bill) 1594, which allows for frivolous lawsuits against gun manufacturers when criminals misuse their products.

Judges issue preliminary injunctions when plaintiffs seem likely to win on the merits of their case. That’s good news indeed for NSSF, the firearms industry, and gun owners at large. Judge Schopler ruled that AB 1594 violates the US Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause, making it fundamentally unconstitutional. Let’s break that down and look briefly at how state laws affect interstate commerce. But first, we’ll address where AB 1594 fits in the larger gun control scheme.

Suing Gunmakers into Oblivion

AB 1594, among other things, bans the manufacture, sale, and marketing of “abnormally dangerous” firearms as defined by the state. Not surprising for California. This so-called “Firearm Industry Responsibility Act” also allows the Attorney General, municipalities, and individuals who claim to have been harmed by the misuse of legal, lawfully sold firearms to file civil lawsuits against the manufacturer of that firearm.

Civil lawsuits have been a recent focus of gun control advocates, especially since Remington settled just such a suit, driving the company into bankruptcy. Gun controllers see these suits as an avenue to curtailing gun manufacturers’ production and advertising, if not forcing them out of business entirely.

Remington Arms bankruptcy
Gun control advocates want to drive more gunmakers into bankruptcy through civil lawsuits. (money.cnn.com)

The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) blocks such suits on the federal level, making it a constant target of gun controllers and their political allies. When you hear Joe Biden rail about holding gun manufacturers responsible for their actions, he’s talking about repealing the PLCAA. And don’t buy the propaganda about the gun industry supposedly being the only industry that’s immune to legal consequences. That is a bold-faced lie.

Gunmakers bear full liability for defective products whose failure results in property damage, injury, or death. Just like every other manufacturer of any product. The PLCAA protects gunmakers from being sued when criminals deliberately misuse their products to hurt or kill other people. A common comparison would be suing Ford or Chevy when a drunk driver kills someone while driving one of their cars.

But gun controllers push their disarmament agenda by misrepresenting the PLCAA to an ill-informed public. They would like nothing more than to swamp gun manufacturers with frivolous lawsuits that eat up resources, eventually making it too expensive to stay in business. And they’ve found a fellow traveler in the State of California.

California Assembly Bill 1594

AB 1594 defies the PLCAA by allowing civil suits against firearms manufacturers. Furthermore, it allows those suits to be filed against companies that do not reside in California, even if the gun in question was purchased outside the state. We’ve long known that California’s draconian gun control only affects law-abiding citizens since criminals will get whatever guns they want, regardless of what the law says.

But instead of punishing those criminals, California seeks to sue the gunmakers. Even if a gun was lawfully sold in a neighboring state. That’s where the Interstate Commerce Clause comes in. The Constitution reserves the power to regulate interstate commerce to Congress. Individual states cannot regulate commercial activity in other states, which is exactly what AB 1594 purports to do. The NSSF wrote that “the law unconstitutionally invades the sovereignty of sister States by directly regulating lawful commerce occurring entirely outside the state of California in violation of the Commerce Clause and the United States’ system of federalism.”

NSSF Vice President and General Counsel Lawrence Keane
NSSF Vice President and General Counsel Lawrence Keane. (SHOT Show TV)

In other words. California seeks to punish companies that abide by the laws of the United States and the states in which they operate. California has done similar things with other goods, and even taxes, but that’s another story. The point is that California often tries to impose its values on other states.

NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Lawrence Keane addressed that tendency, saying “We are thankful the court enjoined the state from suing members of the firearm industry under this unconstitutional law that attempts to use the real threat of liability on commerce beyond California’s borders and impose its policy choices on its sister states.”

Probable Appeal

California never takes a judicial loss lying down, so Attorney General Rob Bonta is likely appealing the decision as I write this. The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit is possibly the nation’s most anti-gun appellate court, so don’t be surprised if they accept the appeal and stay the injunction.

It’s disheartening, but Judge Schopler’s determination that the NSSF is likely to prevail on the case’s merits is very positive. Unfortunately, these things take time. This one is no different. California will fight it, the 9th Circuit will probably obfuscate, and we’ll see where it goes.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta
California Attorney General Rob Bonta will most certainly appeal the ruling. (sfchronicle.com)

More to Come

Keane also noted that the NSSF is looking at further legal challenges to AB 1594 beyond its violation of the Interstate Commerce Clause. “We are reviewing the balance of the court’s decision and whether we will file an amended complaint to provide the court more details on how California’s unconstitutional law and its threat of crushing liability is causing real and ongoing harm to members of our industry.”

The NSSF also makes the obvious claim that AB 1594 infringes on the Second Amendment, which it does. But the NSSF is making First Amendment claims as well. Gunmakers’ fear of legal liability would seemingly chill their First Amendment right to advertise Constitutionally protected products that are being manufactured and sold lawfully. So, it seems California is violating the Constitution in at least three ways.

This case has major implications for the gun industry, as well as for the entire country. Advocates who don’t like certain industries and companies have increasingly turned to frivolous lawsuits as a means to weaken or destroy those entities. Gun control advocates have jumped on that bandwagon with a vengeance. Here’s hoping this case will end some of that. And next time you hear politicians and activists yelling about the gun industry’s “legal immunity,” call it out for the lie that it is.

William "Bucky" Lawson is a self-described "typical Appalachian-American gun enthusiast". He is a military historian specializing in World War II and has written a few things, as he says, "here and there". A featured contributor for Strategy & Tactics, he likes dogs, range time, and a good cigar - preferably with an Old Fashioned that has an extra orange slice.

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