Viewpoint: Cuomo unleashes first-in-nation assault on gun violence: ends manufacturers’ immunity

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Karen Rubin, Viewpoint Columnist

After 51 people were shot just over the July 4th weekend in New York City – over 200 people were killed in 400 incidents around the country – Gov. Andrew Cuomo had enough.

He declared the first-in-the-nation gun violence emergency, treating gun violence as the public health crisis, the deadly epidemic, it is.

The disaster emergency allows the state to expedite money and resources to communities so they can begin targeting gun violence immediately.

This includes a $138.7 million investment in intervention and prevention programs, including programs that engage at-risk youth in summer job opportunities and community activity programs to get young people off the streets, and supports ongoing gun violence prevention programs.

He is also creating a new State Police Gun Trafficking Interdiction Unit to stop the flood of illegal guns that come into New York from states with weak gun safety laws. To coordinate this nation-leading gun violence prevention effort, the Governor announced the creation of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

And for the first time in America, New York State will prosecute gun manufacturers, effectively nullifying federal law that inexplicably and extraordinarily gives liability immunity to this industry and this industry alone.

Under the legislation that Cuomo signed, gun manufacturers will be held liable for the harm their products cause. Also, a loophole that allowed people with outstanding warrants for their arrest to purchase guns was closed.

“The only industry in the United States of America immune from lawsuits are the gun manufacturers, but we will not stand for that any longer,” Cuomo declared. “I am not only signing a new law that does away with this immunity, giving New York the ability to hold them accountable, but also closing the destructive Trump loophole which has allowed people with active warrants to purchase guns for far too long. Now, if you have an active warrant, you cannot buy a gun in the State of New York, period.”

Under this new legislation, gun manufacturers cannot endanger the safety and health of the public through the sale, manufacturing, importing or marketing of the products they sell. The products can be considered a public nuisance even if the gun manufacturer did not purposely cause harm to the public.

The Attorney General and any city corporation counsel can take action on behalf of any locality, as can members of the public, corporations and associations.

Since 2005, a federal law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act has shielded bad actor gun manufacturers and dealers from most lawsuits (it went into effect just as the 1996 assault weapons ban was expiring).

No other industry has such protection from liability for their products and practices, which has created a perfect storm of lax controls and the inability to hold bad actors to account. New York’s legislation will allow for a lawsuit to be brought in cases where reasonable controls and procedures are not in place, ensuring that responsible manufacturers and dealers will not be held accountable for the actions of criminal actors.

The second bill prohibits the sale, purchase or transfer of firearms to anyone known to have an outstanding warrant for a felony or serious offense. It prohibits the buying, selling and gifting of guns if the buyer is known to have a warrant for a felony or serious offense.

In early 2017, Trump’s Department of Justice reinterpreted a gun purchase prohibitor of the National Instant Background Check System to include only those individuals who have fled from one state to another for the purpose of evading prosecution for a crime while subject to an active or imminent arrest warrant versus those subject to any arrest warrant.

New York State addressed this issue by prohibiting any person who is subject to an outstanding arrest warrant for a felony or serious misdemeanor from being issued or maintaining a firearms license, which is necessary to purchase a pistol or revolver.

This new legislation builds on that action, allowing these types of arrest warrants to once again be entered into the NICS database as a state-specific prohibitor, whether the individual has fled New York State or not, ensuring that those individuals wanted in New York for a serious crime cannot acquire new guns in another state.

“For far too long, most guns recovered from violent crimes and shootings in New York are trafficked in from out-of-state, yet the gun industry in the United States enjoys special protection from civil liability under a 2005 federal law known as PLCAA,” Assembly Member Patricia Fahy said. “Passing this landmark legislation will allow gun manufacturers and distributors, who knowingly use bad actors to market their products, to be held civilly liable for the damage they cause on our streets. We have led the nation on gun legislation — and we aren’t letting up now to help keep New Yorkers safe from the scourge of gun violence.”

New York City had 1,500 shootings in 2020, almost twice as many as 2019 and violence so far this year is at the highest level since the early 2000s. Some 886 people have been shot in 765 incidents this year, through July 4, the New York Times reported.

So far this year, 23,000 have already died by guns (12,000 by suicide). Gun violence is up across the country, in cities big and small, no matter how strict gun laws are.

“It is a scourge that is both predictable and preventable,” said Fred Guttenberg, father of Jamie who would have turned 18 this year had she not been shot dead as she attended school in Parkland, Fla.

Predictable and preventable, he says, based on a record 23 million guns purchased in 2020, a 64 percent increase over 2019, with some 400 million in civilian hands. Nine out of 10 guns used in crimes are in possession of a shooter who was not legally allowed to own a gun.

I’m betting the National Rifle Association will be in court faster than a New York minute and fully well expect the gun-violence friendly radical rightwing majority on the Supreme Court to put the perfidious reading of the 2nd Amendment (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State”) above the government’s obligation to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare” of citizens.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Cuomo’s ‘gun emergency’: Illusion disguised as action (msn.com)
    Cuomo’s ‘gun emergency’: Illusion disguised as action
    Jonathan Turley, opinion contributor
    “Cuomo’s declaration will do little beyond satisfying a need to act. Indeed, its main component – a law allowing citizens to sue gun manufacturers – will be as productive as trying to win the New York Marathon by running furiously in place. Yet Cuomo noted that crime fears have drained New York City of people and “they’re not coming back unless they feel safe.” That demands action, even when it is purely illusory.”

  2. The immunity is not unusual nor rare. It is the same immunity that would make it impossible for you to bring a lawsuit against the Ford Motor Company if a terrorist used a Ford truck to run down a crowd of pedestrians, crippling you in the process.

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