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AG Nessel: Gun Manufacturers, Dealers Not Exempt from State Consumer Protection Laws

LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of 13 other attorneys general in filing a brief with the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts arguing that a federal law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), does not shield gun manufacturers and dealers from consumer laws governing the marketing and sale of firearms. 

"Like any other companies, gun manufacturers and dealers must be held accountable for the way they market and sell their products, especially when these products are ending up in the hands of dangerous individuals," Nessel said. "The court must ensure state and federal laws are being interpreted properly." 

The brief, filed in Estados Unidos Mexicanos v. Smith & Wesson Brands, Inc. et al., supports the government of Mexico in a lawsuit brought against seven U.S.-based gun manufacturers, Smith & Wesson, Barrett Firearms, Beretta, Century Arms, Colt, Glock, and Ruger, as well as a Massachusetts-based gun distributor, Interstate Arms. Mexico's complaint alleges the defendants design, market, distribute, and sell guns in a way they know appeals to drug cartels and violent gangs in Mexico. The coalition's brief argues against the defendants' contentions that, through PLCAA, Congress "erected an insurmountable barrier to traditional state law forms of accountability."  

The brief argues that PLCAA should be narrowly interpreted and that federal statutes may not be read to displace traditional areas of state authority, including state consumer protection laws.  

"While Congress intended PLCAA to bar lawsuits seeking to hold gun manufacturers and sellers liable for harms committed by third parties, it also preserved remedies for harms committed by manufacturers and sellers themselves, as when they violate consumer protection laws applicable to the sale and marketing of guns," the coalition wrote in the brief. "Mexico's lawsuit alleges the defendants themselves knowingly violated common law duties and statutes applicable to the sale or marketing of firearms. PLCAA is not, accordingly, a valid defense to Mexico's lawsuit."  

Mexico's complaint alleges a number of claims against the gun manufacturers and distributor, including claims under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, the state's Chapter 93A, and the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA). According to the brief, PLCAA preserves the right of the plaintiffs to bring actions against gun manufacturers and dealers for knowingly violating these laws. The brief points out that both Connecticut and Massachusetts courts have affirmed that, as a matter of state law, both CUTPA and Chapter 93A apply to the sale or marketing of firearms. 

Joining Attorney General Nessel in filing this brief are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Oregon. 

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