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Cuomo’s Big, Bad Idea

Cuomo’s Big, Bad Idea

Photo credit: Zack Seward courtesy Flickr

In an attempt to rise from the ashes of his scandals, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is saying firearms manufacturers and dealers are a “public nuisance” that should be sued into insolvency.

Cuomo has plainly decided he needs an enemy to distract the public. He thinks gun owners, and the many companies that make products for them, are perfectly cast for this political gambit.

As part of this campaign, Gov. Cuomo signed Senate Bill S7196. This legislation is an attempt to allow state officials and others to sue gun makers and dealers for the actions of violent criminals.

Such frivolous lawsuits were stopped in 2005 when the U.S. Congress passed, and then President George W. Bush (R) signed, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). Gun makers and dealers can still be held liable if they sell a faulty product or if they break any one of many laws, but they can’t be held responsible for the actions of third parties who decide to break the law.

For this and other reasons, Lawrence G. Keane, the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s (NSSF) senior vice president and general counsel, says this new law from New York is “unconstitutional, plain and simple. It is abhorrent that Gov. Cuomo is rehashing a decades-old failed playbook that was rejected by courts in the 1990s and early 2000s.”

This gun-control “law is based on the same legal understanding that would allow victims of drunk drivers to sue Ford and Budweiser for the criminal actions of an individual,” says Keane.

The NSSF said in a press release it will challenge this new law in court.

S.B. S7196, in fact, is a vague and propagandic piece of legislation. For example, it defines what constitutes a “public nuisance” in an open-ended way, and then empowers state officials and private citizens to seek damages from gun makers and dealers for marketing and legally selling legal products.

This legislation reads in part:

  1. No gun industry member, by conduct either unlawful in itself or unreasonable under all the circumstances shall knowingly or recklessly create, maintain or contribute to a condition in New York state that endangers the safety or health of the public through the sale, manufacturing, importing or marketing of a qualified product.
  2. All gun industry members who manufacture, market, import or offer for wholesale or retail sale any qualified product in New York state shall establish and utilize reasonable controls and procedures to prevent its qualified products from being possessed, used, marketed or sold unlawfully in New York state.

Wait a second; what is “reasonable”? In another case, New York state Attorney General Letitia James (D) actually thinks it is reasonable for the courts to dissolve the National Rifle Association. This vague language will give lawyers a lot of room to claim gun makers and dealers are a “public nuisance” and so can be sued.

When deciding if gun makers and dealer can be sued this legislation actually says, “The existence of a public nuisance shall not depend on whether the gun industry member acted for the purpose of causing harm to the public.”

In regard to this legislation, James said, “Plain and simple, [the PLCAA] was federal overreach to protect the gun industry in every way possible. But, today, New York state took an important step to right that wrong and protect its citizens from gun violence.” 

Has James even read the PLCAA? It’s a very short and readable law. It explicitly says gun manufacturers and dealers can be sued for faulty products or if they break any one of many gun laws. Either James is lying, or she doesn’t know what she is talking about, which would constitute a dereliction of duty.

Clearly, Cuomo and James want to financially punish companies that make legal products so they can weaken an individual right and score political points with anti-gun extremists in the process. Instead of using state resources to target the real problem—the criminals now committing murder and other crimes—Cuomo has decided to target an industry and a constitutional right.

This is a tactic Gov. Cuomo has tried before. Before the PLCAA was passed in 2005, Cuomo, as President Bill Clinton’s (D) Secretary of Housing and Urban Development at the time, organized housing authorities to bring their own lawsuits against gun manufacturers. At the time, Cuomo said he’d kill the gun industry with a “death by a thousand cuts.”

That attempt to decimate gun manufacturers and dealers with the costs of frivolous lawsuits failed. Gov. Cuomo likely knows this latest attempt will fail as well. What he is counting on is that the mainstream media will run with the narrative that gun makers and dealers are to blame for a recent rise in violence—criminal activity that is clearly associated with 2020’s riots, efforts to defund the police, prisoner releases, and other decisions Cuomo and other officials made.

In the meantime, Cuomo is hoping the press coverage of the issue will help him distance himself from his scandals.

Stopping this latest attempt to punish gun makers and dealers for the actions of criminals is important; after all, if Cuomo and James somehow get away with this, other anti-Second Amendment politicians will try the same thing. President Joe Biden (D) has already said repealing the PLCAA is one of his top priorities.

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