California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Tuesday allowing individuals as well as the state and local governments to sue gun makers for negligence, potentially paving the way to a wave of lawsuits if the legislation survives inevitable legal challenges.
The measure reflects an effort by California and other states led by Democrats to strengthen gun restrictions following mass shootings across the country in the face of fierce opposition by the industry, its Republican allies and a conservative Supreme Court.
California’s measure creates a code of conduct that features various safeguards intended to reduce gun violence, authorizing lawsuits for violations by the state attorney general, city attorneys and individual citizens. The bill takes effect next summer.
“If you’ve been hurt or a family member is a victim of gun violence, you can now go to court and hold these makers of deadly weapons accountable,” Newsom said as he signed the bill in a tweeted video message.
Companies could face lawsuits if their products are “abnormally dangerous,” are sold in a way that lets them be illegally converted, or end up in the hands of people who are prohibited from owning firearms.
California Democrats have redoubled their commitment to stringent gun restrictions after a wave of mass shootings. Newsom asked lawmakers to speed up their timeline for sending him various measures. Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) noted, in presenting the bill on the Assembly floor, that it was the one-year anniversary of a shooting at a San Jose railyard.
“That mass shooting feels like a century ago because we’ve had so many mass shootings between last year and today,” Ting said.
The law is likely to face a court challenge. Ting argued it was on solid legal ground, noting gun makers had lost an initial round of their challenge to a similar New York law.
Newsom is expected to soon sign a similar bill allowing Californians to sue people or companies that distribute banned firearms like assault weapons. That measure, modeled specifically on a Texas law allowing individuals to sue abortion providers, has already cleared the Legislature and gone to Newsom.