National Shooting Sports Foundation Inc., et al. v. Letitia James: Holding the gun industry accountable at the state level
Case Information: National Shooting Sports Foundation Inc., et al. v. Letitia James, No. 1:21-CV-01348-MAD-CFH (United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, filed February 25, 2022)
At Issue: In response to increasing incidents of gun violence in the state, New York signed into law §898-a-e of the New York General Business Law, which provides oversight of firearm industry practices that contribute to gun violence in the state. This provision outlines two categories of “prohibited activities’ and establishes an actionable public nuisance when a gun industry member violates these prohibitions.. This law recognizes that New York is harmed by gun industry practices that allow guns to be funneled into illegal markets, ultimately fueling gun violence. The gun industry argues that under the broad immunities of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) this law cannot stand. However, our brief offers multiple arguments as to why the law is compatible with, and expressly contemplated by, PLCAA.
Our Brief: In a joint brief with Everytown for Gun Safety and Brady, we argue in favor of §898, explaining that it is neither preempted by PLCCA nor unconstitutional under the Dormant Commerce Clause.
First, we point out that PLCAA does not bar lawsuits when a member of the gun industry knowingly violates a law applicable to the sale or marketing of a firearm or other qualified product. Because New York’s law is applicable in precisely this way, it doesn’t violate PLCAA. We also explain that thatlegislative intent expressed in PLCAA’s preamble cannot override the language of the statute itself. PLCAA’s sponsors never intended to prevent state legislatures from passing gun safety laws, like New York’s.
Challenger’s Dormant Commerce Clause arguments also fail, Section 898 (1) does not “clearly discriminate against interstate commerce in favor of intrastate commerce”; (2) nor does it “impose a burden on interstate commerce incommensurate with the local benefits secured”; and, finally, (3) it does not “ha[ve] the practical effect of extraterritorial control of commerce occurring entirely outside the boundaries of the state[.]” Put plainly, Section 898 does not discriminate against interstate commerce because there is no intrastate commerce to advantage, and because any hypothetical intrastate commerce would not be protected by PLCAA. Section 898, which does not regulate prices and was not motivated by economic protectionism, is thus poorly suited for a dormant Commerce Clause challenge under the extraterritoriality doctrine.
Lastly, our brief notes that members of the gun industry are still protected by PLCAA: in order to be held liable under §898, a plaintiff must be able to establish that the defendant “knowingly” violated § 898, and that such violation “was a proximate cause of the harm for which relief is sought.”