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In 2022, California enacted some of the nation’s strongest legislation to promote victims’ and public officials’ ability to bring civil lawsuits against the firearm industry for illegal conduct that causes harm, especially through passage of the Firearm Industry Responsibility Act, which takes effect on July 1, 2023. (Two decades earlier, in 2002, California also became the first state to repeal a gun industry immunity statute).1

As discussed in more detail on the Gun Industry Immunity policy page, a federal law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA),2 provides many firearm industry defendants with broad civil immunity from many common law tort actions. The federal industry immunity law also provides some important exceptions, including what has been called the “predicate exception,” which authorizes plaintiffs to bring civil actions against a firearm industry defendant who has knowingly violated a statute applicable to the sale or marketing of a firearm or certain other related products, if the violation was a proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ harm.3 There has been significant litigation in some cases over whether generally applicable state laws, such as broadly applicable consumer protection, unfair trade practice, or public nuisance laws, qualify as valid predicate statutes under PLCAA, or whether PLCAA’s predicate exception instead requires that the underlying state law more specifically regulate firearms.4

California’s “Firearm Industry Responsibility Act”5 removes any ambiguity on that question and expressly codifies a firearm industry standard of conduct in the Civil Code with obligations and prohibitions that are unquestionably and specifically applicable to the sale and marketing of firearms.

The Firearm Industry Responsibility Act

Effective July 1, 2023, California’s Firearm Industry Responsibility Act requires firearm industry members6 to comply with a “firearm industry standard of conduct,” including certain requirements and prohibitions (detailed below), when engaged in the sale, manufacture, distribution, marketing, or other conduct related to commerce in firearms, ammunition, firearm parts, and other “firearm-related products” affecting California.7

First, the firearm industry standard of conduct8 requires firearm industry members toestablish, implement, and enforce “reasonable controls” (as defined in the law)9, in order to prevent specified harms, such as requiring firearm dealers to design and implement reasonable procedures, security standards, or safe business practices to prevent selling or distributing firearms to gun traffickers.

More specifically, firearm industry members are required to establish, implement, and enforce reasonable controls to:

(1) Prevent the sale or distribution of a firearm-related product to any of the following:

  • A straw purchaser;
  • A firearm trafficker;
  • A person who is legally disqualified from possessing a firearm under state or federal law;
  • A person who the firearm industry member otherwise has reasonable cause to believe is at substantial risk of using a firearm-related product to harm themselves or another person, or of using a firearm-related product unlawfully.10

(2) Prevent the loss or theft of a firearm-related productfrom the firearm industry member.11

(3) Ensure that the firearm industry member complies with all provisions of California and federal law and does not promote the unlawful manufacture, sale, possession, marketing, or use of a firearm-related product.12

All of these provisions are broadly similar to victims’ access to justice laws enacted in 2021 and 2022 in states including New York, New Jersey, and Delaware.

California’s law, however, also includes some additional, broader requirements and prohibitions on the firearm industry, including provisions that:

(4) Require firearm industry members to take reasonable precautions to ensure they do not sell, distribute, or provide a firearm-related product to a downstream distributor or retailer of firearm-related products who fails to comply with the firearm industry standard of conduct.13 This provision provides a check on “head in the sand” behavior that may often allow upstream industry actors like firearm manufacturers to look the other way when they have indications that a downstream distributor or dealer engages in irresponsible conduct contributing to gun violence.

(5) Prohibit firearm industry members from manufacturing, marketing, importing, or offering for wholesale or retail sale any firearm-related products that are “abnormally dangerous and likely to cause an unreasonable risk of harm to public health and safety in California.”14 This provision provides a check on the industry’s incentives to develop uniquely dangerous products designed to circumvent California’s laws. For these purposes, California’s law provides certain statutory presumptions regarding whether a product is abnormally dangerous in violation of the firearm industry standard of conduct. The law specifies that a firearm-related product shall not be considered abnormally dangerous and likely to create an unreasonable risk of harm to public health and safety based on a firearm’s inherent capacity to cause injury or lethal harm.”15 Additionally, the statute establishes a presumption that a firearm-related product is abnormally dangerous and likely to create an unreasonable risk of harm to public health and safety if any of the following is true:

  • The product’s features render the product most suitable for assaultive purposes instead of lawful self-defense, hunting, or other legitimate sport and recreational activities.
  • The product is designed, sold, or marketed in a manner that foreseeably promotes conversion of legal firearm-related products into illegal firearm-related products.
  • The product is designed, sold, or marketed in a manner that is targeted at minors or other individuals who are legally prohibited from accessing firearms.16

Finally, California’s law also expressly clarifies that a firearm industry member’s violation of other generally applicable consumer protection, fair business practice, and false advertising laws will also be deemed a violation of the firearm industry standard of conduct, if the violation was related to the sale or marketing of firearm-related products.17 Victims harmed by violations of those laws may therefore file suit against firearm industry defendants for violating the firearm industry standard of conduct, under the cause of action described below.

Cause of Action for Violating Firearm Industry Standard of Conduct:

Importantly, California’s Firearm Industry Responsibility Act authorizes victims and designated public officials to file civil lawsuits against the firearm industry for violations of the firearm industry standard of conduct described above.18

More specifically, the law authorizes any person who has suffered harm in California because of a firearm industry member’s acts or omissions in violation of the firearm industry standard of conduct to bring a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction.19

The law also authorizes the state Attorney General to bring a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction in the name of the people of California to enforce the Firearm Industry Responsibility Act and remedy harm caused by a violation of the Act,20 and similarly authorizes any city attorney or county counsel to bring a civil action in the name of the people of the jurisdiction they represent to enforce the Act and remedy harm caused by a violation.21

If a court determines that a firearm industry member engaged in any conduct constituting a violation of the firearm industry standard of conduct, the court is authorized to award injunctive relief sufficient to prevent the firearm industry member and any other defendant from further violating the law, as well as damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and any other appropriate relief necessary to enforce the Firearm Industry Responsibility Act and remedy the harm caused by the firearm industry member’s violation of the law.22 The law includes certain presumptions that apply when an action alleges that a firearm industry member failed to establish, implement, and enforce reasonable controls in violation of Section 3273.51(b) of the Civil Code.23

Other Gun Industry Liability Laws

In 2022, California also enacted two other laws that expressly authorize lawsuits against firearm industry defendants in certain cases:

  • AB 2571(effective June 30, 2022) (as amended by AB 160) makes it generally unlawful for firearm industry members to advertise or market24 firearms and related products in a manner that is targeted at minors under the age of 18 in the state.25

    This law authorizes any person harmed by a violation to bring a civil action to recover actual damages and seek injunctive relief and other remedies. The law authorizes the state Attorney General, as well as any district attorney, city attorney, or county counsel to bring a civil action for any violation in any court of competent jurisdiction with civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation.
  • SB 1327(effective January 1, 2023) authorizes any person who is not an officer or employee of a state or local government in the state to file a civil action for court-ordered remedies and statutory damages of at least $10,000 per weapon involved in a legal violation, if plaintiffs establish that a defendant engaged in specified illegal conduct related to assault weapons, .50 caliber weapons, unserialized firearms, unfinished frames and receivers, or the illegal sale or transfer of a firearm by a licensed dealer to a person under 21.26

In 2023, California enacted AB 1089, which allows for lawsuits for conduct related to 3D printers and CNC milling machines. The Act authorized lawsuits against anyone who distributes any digital firearm manufacturing code to anyone else in California who is not a federally licensed firearms manufacturer, member of the Armed Forces, law enforcement agency, or forensic laboratory.27 A person who violates this provision shall be strictly liable for any personal injury or property damage inflicted by the use of a firearm created using the code they distributed.(Cal. Civil Code § 3273.61(b)(1).)) AB 1089 also created a civil action against individuals who violate the criminal laws surrounding 3D printers and CNC milling machines (see Ghost Guns in California).28 The Attorney General, county counsel, or city attorney may bring an action and seek a civil penalty of up to $25,000 for each violation, as well as injunctive relief sufficient to prevent the person and any other defendant from further violating the law.

Additionally, the Act makes it generally unlawful to sell, advertise, or market a 3D printer or CNC milling machine in a manner that knowingly or recklessly causes another person to violate the criminal laws surrounding 3D printers and CNC milling machines, or in a manner that otherwise knowingly or recklessly aids or abets this illegal conduct.29 This action may be brought by a person who suffered harm because of the violation, to seeking actual as well as punitive damages, injunctive relief and other remedies.30 The Attorney General, county counsel or city attorney may bring an action and seek a civil penalty of up to $25,000 per violation.31

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  1. California’s law, adopted in 1983, had previously stated that “[i]n a product liability action, no firearm or ammunition shall be deemed defective in design on the basis that the benefits of the product do not outweigh the risk of injury posed by its potential to cause serious injury, damage, or death when discharged.” The state legislature moved to repeal the statute following the California Supreme Court’s decision in Merrill v. Navegar, 26 Cal. 4th 465 (Cal. 2001), which held that the law immunized an assault weapons manufacturer from a negligence action brought by the victims of the 101 California Street massacre in San Francisco.[]
  2. 15 U.S.C. §§ 7901-7903.[]
  3. 15 U.S.C. § 7903(5)(A).[]
  4. See, e.g., Ileto v. Glock, Inc., 565 F.3d 1126 (9th Cir. 2009).[]
  5. See 2022 AB 1594 (adding Title 20 to Part 4 of Division 3 of the California Civil Code, commencing with Section 3273.50).[]
  6. The term “Firearm industry member” is defined to mean “a person, firm, corporation, company, partnership, society, joint stock company, or any other entity or association engaged in the manufacture, distribution, importation, marketing, wholesale, or retail sale of firearm-related products.” Cal. Civil Code § 3273.50(f).[]
  7. “Firearm-related product” is defined to include a firearm, ammunition, a firearm precursor part [also known as an unfinished frame or receiver], a firearm component, a firearm manufacturing machine [3D printers and CNC milling machines that are marketed and sold as, or reasonably designed or intended to be used to manufacture or produce a firearm], or a firearm accessory that meets any of the following conditions:

    (1) The item is sold, made, or distributed in California.

    (2) The item is intended to be sold or distributed in California.

    (3) The item is or was possessed in California and it was reasonably foreseeable that the item would be possessed in California.

    Cal. Civil Code § 3273.50(d).

    For definitions of other relevant terms, see:

    Cal. Civil Code § 3273.50(a)(defining “ammunition“);
    Cal. Civil Code § 3273.50(b)(defining “firearm“);
    Cal. Civil Code § 3273.50(c)(defining “firearm accessory”);
    Cal. Civil Code § 3273.50(e)(defining “firearm precursor part”).

    []

  8. Codified at Cal. Civil Code § 3273.51.[]
  9. This term is defined in Cal. Civil Code § 3273.50(g).[]
  10. Cal. Civil Code §§ 3273.51(b)(1); 3273.50(g)(1).[]
  11. Cal. Civil Code §§ 3273.51(b)(1); 3273.50(g)(2).[]
  12. Cal. Civil Code §§ 3273.51(b)(1); 3273.50(g)(3).[]
  13. Cal. Civ. Code § 3273.51(b)(2).[]
  14. SeeCal. Civ. Code § 3273.519(c).[]
  15. Cal. Civ. Code § 3273.519(c)(1)(Emphasis added).[]
  16. Cal. Civ. Code § 3273.51(c)(2).[]
  17. See Cal. Civ. Code § 3273.51(d).[]
  18. Cal. Civ. Code § 3273.52.[]
  19. Cal. Civ. Code § 3273.52(b).[]
  20. Cal. Civ. Code § 3273.52(c)(1).[]
  21. Cal. Civ. Code § 3273.52(c)(2), (3).[]
  22. Cal. Civ. Code § 3273.52(d).[]
  23. See Cal. Civ. Code § 3273.52(e).[]
  24. Or arrange for placement of an advertisement or marketing communication offering or promoting any firearm-related product.[]
  25. See Chapter 39 of Division 8 of the Business and Professions Code, commencing with Section 22949.80. The statute more specifically prohibits a firearm industry member from advertising, marketing, or arranging for placement of an advertising or marketing communication offering or promoting a firearm-related product “in a manner that is designed, intended, or reasonably appears to be attractive to minors.” Cal. Bus. Prof. Code § 22949.80(a)(1). In determining whether marketing or advertising of a firearm-related product is reasonably “attractive to minors,” the law instructs courts to consider the totality of the circumstances, with more specific guidance language for factors to consider provided in Cal. Bus. Prof. Code § 22949.80(a)(2).[]
  26. See Chapter 38 of Division 8 of the California Business and Professions Code, commencing with Section 22949.60.[]
  27. Cal. Civil Code § 3273.61(a)(1).[]
  28. Cal. Civil Code § 3273.61(a)(2). See Cal. Penal Code § 29185 for criminal statutes related to 3D printers and CNC milling machines). A person who violates this provision shall be strictly liable for any personal injury or property damage inflicted by the use of a firearm manufactured by means of the CNC milling machine or 3D printer.((Cal. Civil Code § 3273.61(b)(1).[]
  29. Cal. Civil Code § 3273.62(a).[]
  30. Cal. Civil Code § 3273.62(c).[]
  31. Cal. Civil Code § § 3273.62(d[]