Illinois House Democrats approve plan holding gun industry accountable for unlawful tactics

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) — Illinois House Democrats hope to pass a plan in the final two weeks of session to hold gun manufacturers and others in the firearm industry accountable for gun violence. 

Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-Glenview) told the House Judiciary-Civil Committee Wednesday morning that gun manufacturers enjoy a special immunity under federal law as they can legally market firearms to anyone. Gong-Gershowitz and co-sponsors said every family devastated by gun violence should have an opportunity for justice through civil action.

The proposal could make it unlawful to knowingly create, maintain, or contribute to a condition in Illinois that endangers the safety or health of the public by failing to establish reasonable safeguards. 

“In 2020, guns surpassed traffic fatalities as the leading cause of death for children in the United States,” Gong-Gershowitz said. “In 2023 alone, there were 58 unintentional shootings by children. Gun manufacturers can legally market an insurrection to white supremacist groups like the Proud Boys and pink assault weapons to children too young to own one.”

Attorney General Kwame Raoul (D-Illinois) said the firearm industry should not be allowed to sell guns to straw purchasers or market weapons to paramilitary or private militias. Gun manufacturers and distributors would also be banned from marketing or selling firearms to minors. 

“No single industry should be given a free pass to engage in unlawful, unfair, or deceptive conduct,” Raoul said. “Rather than single out the industry as some have suggested, this legislation ensures the industry is treated in exactly the same way as other businesses within the state.”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation told the House Judiciary-Civil Committee that this plan will violate the Federal Protection of Lawful Commerce and Arms Act. Although, Raoul and Gong-Gershowitz said their legislation will be able to stand up against any legal challenges brought forward by gun advocates.

Still, the Illinois State Rifle Association and Illinois Federation of Outdoor Resources stressed the bill language is too vague and could lead to unintended consequences.

“There are trap shooting teams in downstate Illinois. There are out-of-state companies that engage in partnerships with them to provide discounted ammunition,” said lobbyist Josh Witkowski. “We are worried that these partnerships will dissolve because these companies are going to be worried about the language contained in this act.”

House Bill 218 passed out of the House Judiciary-Civil Committee on a partisan 8-4 vote. The legislation later passed out of the House hours later on a 71-40 vote with Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) voting present.

Gong-Gershowitz noted that the Protection of Lawful Commerce and Arms Act affords manufacturers and sellers immunity from civil liability arising from criminal or unlawful use of their products by third parties.

“But, Congress laid out six exceptions,” Gong-Gershowitz explained. “One is the predicate exception that permits civil actions alleging that a manufacturer knowingly violated a state or federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of a firearm and when the violation was the approximate cause of harm.”

The sponsor also told Republicans that this approach has been upheld by courts in New York and California. Rep. Dan Ugaste (R-Geneva) told Gong-Gershowitz and Raoul during the committee and floor debates that he doesn’t believe the bill will prevent future gun violence. 

Gong-Gershowitz and co-sponsors said every family devastated by gun violence should have an opportunity for justice through civil action.

“We have ideas on this side of the aisle that we believe would truly help,” Ugaste said. “A lot of those bills, a lot of those ideas, never get heard. This bill is coming forward and I wish I could say it’s accomplishing the task it’s seeking to meet. What we have here is at best a constitutionally-questionable bill that is going to require our state to expend resources in defending it because a challenge is going to come.”

House Bill 218 now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

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May 10, 2023 at 08:48PM

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