Illinois' gun industry vulnerable to lawsuits under new law

Effective immediately, Illinois firearm industry members can be targeted with legal action for allegedly contributing to unsafe conditions or advertising to children or for paramilitary activity.
A gun store in Yuma, Ariz., June 2022

Effective immediately, Illinois firearm industry members can be targeted with legal action for allegedly contributing to unsafe conditions or advertising to children or for paramilitary activity.

On the heels of the Illinois Supreme Court upholding the state’s gun and magazine ban Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 218 Saturday.

“We hold opioid manufacturers accountable, vaping companies accountable, predatory lenders accountable,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Gun manufacturers shouldn’t get to hide from the law—and now, they won’t be able to. Here’s to an Illinois where everyone feels safe in every corner of our great state.”

During a bill signing ceremony with gun control advocates, Pritzker said they are taking action.

“The state of Illinois will now be allowed to take legal action against firearms industry players that endanger the public safety and health of our people,” Pritzker said.

Robert Bevis of firearm manufacturer and retailer Law Weapons in Naperville said the measure is another example of an infringement.

“Automobile manufacturers are not responsible for people that drive drunk and crash their cars,” Bevis said. “We can’t be held responsible for the way somebody uses a firearm if it’s in a nefarious way.”

Bevis is a lead plaintiff in one of the cases pending in the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals challenging Illinois’ and Naperville’s gun and magazine ban. In a separate state-level case, the state’s ban was upheld Friday by the Illinois Supreme Court.

The measure Pritzker signed Saturday says it is unlawful for the industry to “knowingly create” or “contribute to a condition in Illinois that endangers the safety or health of the public by conduct either unlawful in itself or unreasonable under all circumstances, including failing to establish or utilize reasonable controls.”

Such steps in the law firearm industry members must take are to prevent the sale to straw purchasers, to prevent loss or theft of firearm-related products, prevent advertising that encourages “paramilitary or private militia activity in Illinois,” or to “recommend, or encourage” anyone under the age of 18 years old to “unlawfully purchase or possess or use a firearm-related product in Illinois.”

The law says unlawful conduct includes advertising for youth using things such as caricatures that appear to be minors or cartoon characters, branded clothing, toys, games or stuffed animals that promote the firearm-related product to youth or are made in youth sizes or are advertised in areas “predominantly composed of minors.”

Gun rights advocate Todd Vandermyde testified against the bill during spring session. The Aurora Sportsmen’s Club Vandermyde is a member of is set to host a family event with “a lot of minors that show up to that event with their families and do shooting.”

“The question is does that marketing somehow bring our gun club into being sued just because,” he said.

Saturday, Vandermyde alleged the measure violates rights on several levels.

“You’ve got the right to assemble, you’ve got our free speech rights, you’ve got our Second Amendment rights,” Vandermyde said.

The law does not apply to communications or promotional materials regarding lawful recreational activity with a firearm such as practice shooting or hunting.

Gun control advocacy group Brady praised the measure, saying the firearms industry has been allowed to market and distribute their products because of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

“No industry should be held above the law or given a free pass to engage in such dangerous and irresponsible conduct, especially an industry linked to the deaths of 1,606 Illinoisans every year,” said Brady President Kris Brown.

Before Saturday’s signing, state Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, said Pritzker and the Democrats had shown a disregard for the Constitution, from allowing noncitizens to become police to targeting the free speech of pregnancy centers and more.

“This governor is a dangerous governor,” Plummer said. “This governor doesn’t think the rules apply to him, and he has no respect for the constitution, and it’s time for the judiciary to start reining him in.”

The new law mirrors one signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2022. Assembly Bill 1594 created the “firearm standard of conduct,” requiring members of the firearm industry to “enforce reasonable controls” to prevent the sale of firearms to a downstream distributor that does not enforce the same controls. The National Shooting Sports Foundation challenged the law in federal court in May 2023, asking the judge to stop it from taking effect while it’s litigated. Attorneys for Attorney General Rob Bonta and the NSSF on Friday agreed on a Sept. 11 deadline for the state to respond to the injunction request.

Earlier this month, a federal judge put an injunction on Illinois from enforcing a separate law that allows the Attorney General to sue pregnancy centers for alleged deceptive practices. Federal District Judge Iain Johnston called that measure “stupid” and “very likely unconstitutional.”