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Court: Gun Makers Can't Face Civil Suit

By David Goguen on May 13, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Licensed makers and sellers of handguns cannot be held legally responsible for the acts of a criminal who decides to go on a shooting rampage, a California federal appeals court decided this week. The decision is the latest roadblock in attempts to impose some form of civil tort liability on the manufacturers of firearms.

In the case decided Monday, surviving victims and people who lost family members in a 1999 shooting spree in a suburb of Los Angeles sought to hold gunmakers and gun sellers legally responsible, via a civil lawsuit for damages.

The issue before the federal appeals court was whether the lawsuit was barred under a federal law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, enacted in 2005.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided that the lawsuit was indeed barred by the PLCAA, to the extent that the plaintiffs were seeking to hold federally licensed gun makers and gun sellers legally liable for the intentional acts of a criminal.

The court declared that, by enacting the PLCAA, "Congress has protected federally licensed manufacturers and sellers of firearms from most civil liability for injuries independently and intentionally inflicted by criminals who use their non-defective products." But the court agreed to let claims against unlicensed foreign manufacturers proceed.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit unsuccessfully claimed that "the manufacturers deliberately made more guns than the legitimate market could support and sold them through channels that would reach a 'secondary market' of private and under-the-table transactions," according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

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