Federal Judge Strikes Down Bid to Block Gun Restriction Bill in Washington State

Tom Ozimek
By Tom Ozimek
March 10, 2024Judiciary
Federal Judge Strikes Down Bid to Block Gun Restriction Bill in Washington State
Guests check out the SIG Sauer display at the National Rifle Association's Annual Meetings & Exhibits at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis on April 14, 2023. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A federal judge in Washington state struck down a legal bid by a pro-gun rights group to block a new regulation that opens firearm manufacturers to lawsuits for crimes committed with their products.

U.S. District Court Judge Mary Dimke on March 8 dismissed a lawsuit against Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson brought by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), which sought to prevent Senate Bill 5078 from going into effect.

The bill, known as the Firearm Industry Responsibility & Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Justice Act, imposes state-level legal liability on Washington’s firearm industry, allowing lawsuits to be brought on behalf of people who are killed or injured with the industry’s products.

The measure also opens firearms manufacturers and sellers to legal liability if they fail to establish, implement, and enforce “reasonable controls” in the manufacture, sale, and distribution of firearms.

SB 5078 was signed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on April 25, 2023, with the NSSF filing its lawsuit on the same day.

The measure faced opposition from the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), which argued that the bill would subject licensed firearm manufacturers and sellers to frivolous lawsuits and kill thousands of jobs in the state.

The Lawsuit

The NSSF’s lawsuit against Mr. Ferguson challenged the constitutionality of SB 5078, arguing that it imposed “sweeping liability” on gun makers and distributors, opening them up to lawsuits that amount to “unconstitutional efforts to stamp out lawful and constitutionally protected activity.”

The group also argued that the law would allow the bypassing of the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which gives gun makers and dealers immunity from civil suits for crimes committed with firearms that they manufacture or sell.

“Washington is now trying to resurrect the very kinds of lawsuits that the PLCAA was enacted to eliminate,” the group stated in its complaint.

Congress invited states to regulate firearm sales and marketing practices by creating state-level laws that establish exceptions to the PLCAA, with SB 5078 being such a law.

Sue Firearms Industry ‘Out of Existence’

In expressing its opposition to the law, the NRA-ILA said in a statement that the bill “simply seeks to sue the firearms industry out of existence in the state of Washington.”

“Without the firearms industry, Washingtonians will not have access to firearms and ammunition and the fundamental right to keep and bear arms,” the NRA-ILA added.

In its lawsuit, the NSSF requested a ruling that would declare SB 5078 unconstitutional and sought an injunction preventing it from being enforced.

The judge disagreed, stating in her order that the group “failed to bring a live case or controversy” before the court, while dismissing the case without prejudice, meaning that the issue can be tried again.

Mr. Ferguson, who is considering running for Washington state governor, hailed the decision, saying in a statement that the new law imposes “real accountability” on the gun industry.

“My legal team remains undefeated against the gun lobby in court,” Mr. Ferguson said in the statement.

“This law protects Washingtonians from gun violence by ensuring that gun industry members face real accountability when their irresponsible conduct harms our communities,” he added.

NSSF did not respond to a request for comment on the judge’s decision.

Four other states—Delaware, New York, New Jersey, and California—have adopted similar legislation to SB 5078, with the New York law already having survived a challenge in federal court.

The NSSF, which challenged the New York law, has appealed that decision, with the case pending.

The New York law, which was signed into law in July 2021 by Democratic former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, allows gun makers to be sued if they “knowingly or recklessly create, maintain or contribute” to a dangerous condition in the state with their products.

From The Epoch Times

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