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Cracks Widen in Gun Industry's Immunity Shield

The gun industry’s exposure to negligence and public-nuisance lawsuits was once assumed to be largely settled after the 2005 enactment of the federal law that grants the industry broad protections against being held liable for the misuse of its products. Now, the issue looks destined for Supreme Court review as lawsuits pile up and more states enact laws making it easier to bring civil suits against gun makers, the Wall Street Journal reports. “It’s not this cloak of immunity that everybody originally thought it was,” said Philip Bangle, a senior litigation counsel with the Brady gun-violence prevention group. The firearms industry says gun-control activists are defying Congress’ intent when it enacted the immunity law.

One prominent looming threat comes from the government of Mexico, which is seeking billions of dollars in damages from gun companies for allegedly arming crime cartels. That case deploys a new legal strategy, claiming gun makers are accomplices in violations of federal gun laws, such as prohibitions on exporting guns without a license and selling to straw purchasers. A federal appeals panel, reversing a lower-court judge, ruled in January that Mexico’s suit could proceed. Lawyers for the manufacturers plan to ask the Supreme Court to take up the case, but they failed to get it put on hold, potentially allowing Mexico to gather more evidence. On another front, copycat laws and litigation have followed in the wake of the 2019 ruling by Connecticut's highest court allowing families of the Sandy Hook school massacre victims to sue Remington Arms over its marketing of assault-style weapons. The case settled for $73 million in 2022 before any trial. Remington had filed for bankruptcy protection in 2020, and its insurers ultimately paid the bill. Pending lawsuits over mass shootings at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School in Texas and at a July Fourth parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park have tried a similar path. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruling, though, has remained an outlier. Federal courts have barred lawsuits based on violations of broad, generic laws that don’t expressly deal with firearms.


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