The firearms industry is pushing back against New York’s “public nuisance” law, a newly-enacted measure that allows gun manufacturers and distributors to be held liable for actions that harm public safety.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation filed a federal lawsuit in Albany on Thursday seeking to block the new law, which former Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed in July in an attempt to get around federal protections that have historically blocked firearms manufacturers from many civil lawsuits.
Under New York’s law, the state, local governments and crime victims are now able to file civil suits against the gun makers and distributors if they contribute to a “public nuisance” by failing to take adequate action to ensure their products aren’t used in unlawful activity.
But the firearms group’s lawsuit claims the new law is unconstitutionally vague and violates the industry’s federal protections against liability, including those laid out in a 2005 law known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
The lawsuit also includes a series of well-known gun manufacturers and distributors as co-plaintiffs, including Beretta USA Corp. and Glock Inc. It seeks a preliminary injunction to immediately block the public nuisance law from being enforced.
“Today’s lawsuit will end this unconstitutional attack on the businesses, large and small, vital to Americans’ Second Amendment rights,” Lawrence Keane, the Shooting Sports Foundation’s senior vice president and general counsel, said in a statement.
The lawsuit drew immediate backlash from state Attorney General Letitia James as well as Brooklyn state Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assembly member Pat Fahy of Albany, the bill’s sponsors.
In a joint statement, Myrie and Fahy said the gun companies are showing they have “no interest whatsoever in responsible marketplace behavior,” noting a rise in gun violence in many cities across the nation.
“Now would seem like a great time for introspection instead of panicked lawsuits to defend reckless behavior,” the statement read.
The state Legislature approved the bill in June as part of a series of new gun-control measures. Cuomo quickly signed them into law about a month before he resigned amid a variety of scandals, including claims he sexually harassed state employees and used his staff to help write a book that netted him $5 million.
The law’s supporters say it was carefully crafted to comply with federal liability protections, which allow for civil lawsuits in instances when a gun manufacturer knowingly took steps to violate an underlying law. In this case, that law would be the state’s public nuisance measure.
But the industry group’s lawsuit claims that’s a violation of the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause, which gives federal law precedence in cases when it conflicts with state law.
James, who has clashed with the firearms industry and has filed a lawsuit to dissolve the National Rifle Association, said the lawsuit is the latest example of the gun lobby trying to “thwart common-sense efforts to protect lives.”
“Make no mistake: We will aggressively defend this law and won’t back down against their continued attempts to endanger New Yorkers,” she tweeted.