Open Season: Cuomo Signs Legislation Allowing Citizens and Local Governments to Sue Gun Manufacturers, Declares Gun Violence Disaster Emergency

 

Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed unprecedented legislation that will allow both citizens and local governments to take legal action against gun manufacturers when their products are misused. The governor approved bills (S.7196/A.6762-B and S.5000-B/A.6198-B) on Tuesday, which enable the state to hold gun manufacturers liable for irresponsible gun use, and close a loophole that allowed people with outstanding warrants for their arrest to purchase firearms.

“Of all the challenges we face every day in New York, few are as difficult to bear as the scourge of gun violence plaguing our communities,” said Cuomo. “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. 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 firearms. 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.

As of June 6, New York is the first and thus far only state in the union to declare a “gun violence emergency,” a proclamation the governor made during a press conference at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Cuomo further announced that New York will spend $138.7 million on prevention, intervention and employment programs for at-risk youth, including a $57 million investment toward creating 21,000 jobs for youth over the summer through local, city and state agencies.

Since 2005, a federal law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act has shielded gun manufacturers and dealers from most lawsuits. This new legislation will allow for a lawsuit to be brought in cases where “reasonable controls and procedures” are not in place. Cuomo emphasized that these measures are intended to protect responsible manufacturers and dealers from criminal actors wielding their products.

The second law signed  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. This bill was proposed as part of the 2021 State of the State.

In early 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice redefined a key aspect of the National Instant Background Check System so that the law can only prevent the sale of a gun to an individual who has fled the state in which their arrest warrant was issued. The new law will extend that restriction to any person subject to an arrest warrant.

 

To coordinate this gun violence prevention effort, the Governor announced the creation of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention. The Governor also required, by Executive Order, that major police departments to share incident-level data on gun violence with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services to compile this data weekly. This data will be used by the new Office of Gun Violence Prevention to track emerging gun violence hotspots and deploy resources to those areas that need it most.