The day after the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, a federal judge in New York issued a verdict in a gun-control case that could offer some gun control advocates a glimmer of hope.
The ruling, delivered Wednesday by Judge Mae D'Agostino of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, rejected a claim by gun manufacturers that a 2021 New York state law aimed at regulating their industry is unconstitutional.
In her ruling, D'Agostino noted that although a 2005 U.S. law grants the industry broad immunity from lawsuits, it could still be held liable when "a manufacturer or seller of a [firearm] knowingly violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product."
Opponents say they will appeal the decision, potentially taking the case to the Supreme Court. But if the ruling is ultimately upheld, cases brought against gun manufacturers may be deemed allowable despite the existence of the U.S. immunity law, called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).
The New York law could become a pathway for victims — and prosecutors — to bring serious legal challenges to the gun industry, said Timothy D. Lytton, a professor of law at Georgia State University who studies gun violence.
“Other states could now leverage the New York statutes to suggest there was a violation,” Lytton said in an interview. “It blows a large hole in PLCAA immunity.”
The New York law allows gun violence victims, their families and the state of New York "to hold bad actors in the gun industry accountable for their role in fueling the epidemic of gun violence," according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control and against gun violence.
“This ruling should put members of the gun industry on notice: accountability is coming,” said Nick Suplina, senior vice president of law and policy for Everytown, said in a statement this week.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation and 14 members of the gun industry, including Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co., challenged the New York law. In a statement, a representative for the foundation said it was "disappointed" by the ruling, adding, "We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and plan to appeal.”
Signed by President George W. Bush in 2005 and enacted with the help of the National Rifle Association, the PLCAA law gave the gun industry nearly blanket immunity against being charged by victims of their products. The law was created in part over fears of the gun industry that it would face the kinds of lawsuits that brought Big Tobacco to heel.
During his 2020 election campaign, President Joe Biden called for the PLCAA to be reformed, saying his administration “will not rest until they’re able to sue the gun manufacturers and get a ban on assault weapons.”
“We’ll take them on," Biden said at the time, "remove the immunity and allow those parents who are trying now to sue for the pain and mayhem they have caused."