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AG Nessel Joins Brief Urging the First Circuit to Recognize that Gun Law Does Not Shield Gun Manufacturers and Dealers from Liability
March 23, 2023
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has announced her office has joined a coalition of 17 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in the case Estados Unidos Mexicanos v. Smith & Wesson Brands et al.
In their brief, the attorneys general describe the states’ interests in upholding public safety and preserving state-law remedies for misconduct by gun manufacturers and sellers. To further these interests, the coalition urges the court to recognize that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) creates only a narrow restriction on state-law remedies against the firearms industry. Under PLCAA’s plain terms, the coalition argues, gun manufacturers and dealers are not exempt from liability when they violate state or federal laws governing the sale and marketing of firearms.
“Gun manufacturers and dealers cannot be allowed to hide behind PLCAA when they violate certain state and federal laws,” Nessel said. “As with the coalition states, Mexico has seen the scourge that gun violence has caused in its country and has sought to hold gun manufacturers accountable when their products are put in the hands of dangerous criminals. I stand with my colleagues in asking the First Circuit to correct the lower court’s error.”
The brief was filed in support of the government of Mexico’s lawsuit against seven U.S.-based gun manufacturers and a gun distributor. Mexico’s lawsuit alleges that the defendants designed, marketed, distributed, and sold guns in a way they knew appealed to drug cartels and violent gangs in Mexico. The defendants successfully moved to dismiss the case on the theory that Mexico’s claims were barred under PLCAA. The coalition of attorneys general had supported Mexico in the lower court, urging that court to construe PLCAA narrowly, and is now continuing that support on appeal of the dismissal.
The coalition argues that, when Congress enacted PLCAA, it did so with the intention of striking a balance: exempting gun manufacturers and sellers from liability for harms inflicted solely because of third parties’ unlawful conduct, while also expressly preserving liability where gun industry members themselves violate state or federal laws applicable to the sale or marketing of firearms. PLCAA thus does not grant broad immunity for gun manufacturers and sellers and does not stand in the way of actions, like the one brought by Mexico, alleging that the defendants knowingly violated state or federal statutes applicable to the sale or marketing of firearms.
The coalition argues that the state and federal statutes identified in Mexico’s complaint, such as the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, the National Firearms Act of 1934, and state consumer protection laws, are precisely the sort of statutes that PLCAA says can be enforced. Since Mexico pleaded violations of each of these laws, the coalition argues, the district court erred in analyzing only the alleged state-law violations, but not the alleged federal violations, before dismissing Mexico’s complaint as barred by PLCAA. The coalition also argues that principles of federalism and respect for state sovereignty require reading PLCAA narrowly, so as not to deprive residents of state-law remedies more broadly than Congress intended.
A full copy of the brief can be found here.
The brief, led by Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell, is also joined by the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.