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New Jersey faces lawsuit challenging gun control law

Lawsuit says public nuisance laws would "impose liability" on industry members for firearms lawfully sold in other states.

Published: November 18, 2022 1:35pm

Updated: November 18, 2022 11:05pm

(The Center Square) -

A national firearms trade group is challenging a New Jersey law that allows the state and private individuals to file lawsuits against firearm manufacturers.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a Connecticut-based firearms industry trade group, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Thursday asking a judge to overturn a recently enacted "public nuisance" law that the group argues was "specifically designed to evade the judgment of Congress – and the Constitution."

The lawsuit claims Congress barred such "baseless lawsuits" against gun makers in 2005 when it passed the bipartisan Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which gave firearm manufacturers and sellers broad immunity from most litigation.

The trade group filed a similar federal lawsuit on Thursday against Delaware, President Joe Biden's home state, which enacted a similar public nuisance law earlier this year.

Lawrence G. Keane, the group’s vice president and general counsel, said the public nuisance laws "flout the will of Congress and undermine the U.S. Constitution."

"These state laws are at odds with bedrock principles of American law, which does not hold manufacturers and sellers legally responsible for the actions of criminals and remote third parties over whom the manufacturer and seller has no control when they misuse lawfully sold products," Keane said in a statement.

The group said the PLCAA law "keeps activist lawyers from placing the blame on members of the firearm industry" for the criminal misuse of lawfully manufactured firearms.

"No other industry in America had been targeted by such baseless, politically motivated lawsuits," the group's statement said.

The group also claims in the lawsuit that the public nuisance laws would "impose liability" on industry members for firearms lawfully sold in other states that later find their way into Delaware or New Jersey through the independent actions of remote third parties and criminals.

New Jersey's public nuisance law, which was signed by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in July, authorizes the Attorney General to file lawsuits against the gun industry if it "knowingly or recklessly contribute to a public nuisance" by failing to maintain "reasonable controls" on the sale, manufacturing, distribution, importing, or marketing of gun-related products.

State Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin has created a new division in his office specifically to file civil enforcement actions against firearm companies for violating state laws.

Platkin and other New Jersey officials say the state's tough firearm safety laws have helped it maintain one of the lowest firearm mortality rates in the country.

But they point out, there are still hundreds of gun-related deaths each year in the state, which has also seen mass shootings including a 2019 incident where two individuals targeted a kosher market in Hudson County in an attack that claimed the lives of six people, including a Jersey City police officer.

There was no immediate comment from the New Jersey Attorney General's office about the litigation.

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