It was introduced amid a wave of lawsuits brought by city governments, which argued that gun companies had created a “public nuisance” by encouraging the proliferation of weapons. Advocates for gun makers said such suits threatened to destroy the industry and imperil Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms.
But over the past eight years, the legal shield has increasingly been used to block a different stripe of legal action — suits brought by victims and their families alleging that gun makers had failed to equip their firearms with proper safeguards or that gun dealers sold weapons improperly.
Attorneys for victims of mass shootings, such as the massacre Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and last summer’s rampage in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, say they have been surprised by the legal constraints they would face in challenging the gun industry.
“It makes no logical sense. . . . If their wallets were threatened, they would have a greater interest in making firearms safer,” said Veronique Pozner, whose 6-year-old son, Noah, was one of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook.
Pozner, who has been eyeing a lawsuit, has been discussing the gun industry’s protections with a lawyer she and other Newtown parents recently retained. “I am looking at anything that can be done to prevent this from happening to another family,” she said in an interview this week, describing the searing memories of her fallen son. “I don’t want his life to be a statistical blip.” Pozner said she wants to press the maker of the semiautomatic rifle used in the crime, alleging it failed to install a high-tech safety device that might have prevented Adam Lanza from firing the gun, which he took from his mother.
Marc Bern, a New York trial lawyer representing family members of Aurora victims, said the gun law severely limited his clients’ options. He is pursuing a case against the movie theater company, although some of his clients had expressed interest in trying to pursue companies that provided guns or ammunition to the shooter.
“We looked at the gun industry, but they were able to insulate themselves with this law,” Bern said. “It is absolutely outrageous that the gun industry is not accountable when virtually every other industry in this country is accountable.”
Officials from the NRA and the gun industry defend the law as necessary to protect U.S. companies from costly, and what they see as unfair, litigation that seeks to blame manufacturers and sellers for crimes they did not commit.