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Who’s Responsible: Guns, Doors or ‘Fake Security’?

Two California bills would chip away at federal law that protects gun manufacturers from being held legally liable for violence committed with their products.

PUBLISHED MAY 28, 2022 12:00 A.M.
Santa Clara County Sherrif's deputies block access to the VTA railyard a day after the 2021 San Jose shooting where 9 people were killed.
Santa Clara County Sherrif's deputies block access to the VTA railyard a day after the 2021 San Jose shooting where 9 people were killed. Legoktm-Wikimedia Commons   CC BY-SA 4.0

By BEN CHRISTOPHER, CalMatters

On Thursday, the country was still reeling from the mass murder of 19 elementary school children in Texas. In San Jose, survivors and their families commemorated the first anniversary of the San Jose railyard massacre that left nine shot dead. And in Sacramento, the California Legislature pushed forward what may be the most far-reaching pieces of its gun control package

As CalMatters justice reporter Nigel Duara explains, federal law protects gun manufacturers and vendors from being held legally liable for violence committed with their products in most cases. Two California bills authored by Democrats would chip away at that legal shield.

San Ramon Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan introduced a bill targeting the marketing of firearms to children and those not legally allowed to possess them. It passed out of the Assembly on Monday.

A bill by San Francisco Assemblymember Phil Ting would specify that the state can bring lawsuits against gun manufacturers based on their marketing. That exception is already included in federal law, but gun makers have challenged that interpretation in court. It passed out of the Assembly on a 44-19 vote Thursday night.

Are guns actually marketed to children?
Consider the logo of Wee 1 Tactical, the producer of the just-for-kids JR-15: “Two skulls with a target in one eye and a pacifier in each mouth. One skull has a mohawk and the other has pigtails.”

Late last year, Gov. Newsom proposed a bill, modeled on a Texas anti-abortion law, to let everyday Californians bring private lawsuits against certain gun manufacturers and distributors. Perhaps because it’s deliberately provocative, that bill has gotten the lion’s share of public attention in recent weeks. But gun rights activists are just as alarmed about this crop of liability-related bills.

Michael Schwartz, head of San Diego County Gun Owners: “If fully realized and implemented, it’s an enormous threat to gun rights…I don’t know what the perceived fear is, but I’m not afraid that kids are gonna get addicted to an AR-15.”

Security Failure
In San Jose, the family of Lars Lane, one of the victims of the 2021 shooting, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, along with the County Sheriff and the private security company Universal Protection Service.

Nick Rowley, the family’s attorney, said in a press release: “The tragedy that occurred one year ago today is a consequence of lazy, negligent and fake security.”

And in Washington D.C., most Senate Republicans are unwilling to blame the Texas massacre on either the availability of semiautomatic rifles or on the nation’s gun laws. Instead, some have laid the blame on insufficiently impregnable schools. In an interview in Uvalde, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said this week’s rampage could have been prevented if the school had only a single entry way.

That prompted a rejoinder on Twitter from Newsom: “A true profile in courage: Sen. Ted Cruz blames the shooting on a door.”

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

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