Acting AG: Here’s one way to hold the gun industry responsible for the harm they cause | Opinion

Published: May. 29, 2022

By Matthew J. Platkin

Gun violence in America is a public health crisis. Just this month alone we have seen mass shootings at a supermarket, a church and an elementary school. In each tragic case, the victims were simply performing ordinary activities — shopping for groceries, attending church services, and enjoying what would have otherwise been an ordinary school day. The perpetrators of these atrocities appeared to have one thing in common: ready access to firearms.

According to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control report issued earlier this month, deadly shootings accounted for 79% of homicides nationwide in 2020 — a 35% increase from the prior year and the highest firearm homicide rate in more than two decades. New Jersey, unfortunately, is not insulated from the national uptick in gun violence: in 2020 there were 330 homicides in our state, 25% more than the year before, and two-thirds of those deaths involved a firearm.

The Attorney General’s Office has a long history of working closely with law enforcement partners at all levels of government to keep our residents safe, including through smart and evidence-based police work that leads to the arrest and prosecution of individuals, gangs, and gun traffickers who violate New Jersey’s commonsense gun laws, and who bring danger and chaos to our communities.

But to address a problem as widespread and complex as gun violence we need to use every legal tool at our disposal. That means addressing this problem where it starts — with firearms manufacturers. New Jersey has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. These laws work. According to CDC data, New Jersey has one of the lowest firearms death rates in the country.

But the gun manufacturers and retailers who profit from gun violence have largely escaped accountability. That is because in 2005 Congress, at the direction of the NRA, passed a federal law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which has made it difficult to hold gun manufacturers and dealers accountable for endangering public safety through the sale, manufacturing, importing or marketing of guns.

In short, PLCAA shields gun manufacturers and dealers from much civil liability – immunizing them from being held responsible for the harm they cause in American communities every day. No other industry enjoys the same protections that Congress has bestowed on the gun industry. Any other company would need to pay for causing such widespread damage and would take reasonable steps to reduce the harms associated with their products.

To be sure, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has had some success in using civil litigation to protect our residents from gun violence. We have required out-of-state gun dealers to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in connection with internet sales into New Jersey of firearm products that are illegal in our state, and we have successfully ensured that companies stop making such sales. But these lawsuits have addressed a different type of harm — and on a different scale — than the kind of lawsuit that is necessary to require major gun manufacturers to pay for the harm their products cause.

New legislation supported by Gov. Phil Murphy would give us more robust legal tools to seek redress from these big companies — big companies that continue to profit from the deaths of New Jerseyans. This bill (S1893/A6218) — sponsored by Senators Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) and Nellie Pou (D-Passaic, Bergen) and Assemblymembers John F. McKeon (D-Essex, Morris), Reginald Atkins (D-Union) and Mila Jasey (D-Essex, Morris) — would strengthen the attorney general’s ability to safeguard the public from gun violence and to seek relief, which among other things could allow us to force gun manufacturers and dealers to change their practices and pay for their harms.

Simply put, this bill affirms that unlawful or unreasonable acts by the gun industry that create or fuel gun violence are a public nuisance, and ensures that New Jersey can hold accountable members of the gun industry for such irresponsible actions.

There is no time to waste.

We have passed the point where too many loved ones will never return from the supermarket or church, where too many children will never graduate from elementary school. I am tired of hearing the common refrain: when will those who profit from this bloodshed be held accountable?

There have been too many deaths — too many deaths, but not enough people in power who have been willing to stand up to the gun industry. It is time to take a stand. It is time to say enough.

It is time to hold gun manufacturers accountable for the harm they cause. The public nuisance law will provide us with a tool to do just that. I am ready and eager to use it.

Matthew J. Platkin is New Jersey’s acting attorney general.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-05-31 04:17:06 -0700