Solution: How Litigation Reduces Gun Violence

Tort litigation against irresponsible gun companies has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to reform dangerous gun industry practices. Forcing companies to pay for some of the damage they cause to victims due to their misconduct can make their dangerous practices unprofitable. So even if they only care about their bottom line, they will act more responsibly. Studies document how effective tort litigation can be in reducing the supply of crime guns.

One study found an 84% decrease in crime guns from 25 gun dealers recovered in New York City after the dealers faced public nuisance suits brought by the City. Another study found a 62% decrease in crime guns recovered in Chicago within one year of sale from a dealer who faced a lawsuit by the City. And reforms by even one gun company can have a large impact on gun violence.  One study found a 44%  decrease in new crime guns in Milwaukee when just one gun store reformed its business practices by stopping sales of cheap handguns.

Lawsuits have forced numerous gun dealers to implement safer practices to prevent straw sales.  And in 2000, in response to lawsuits brought by numerous U.S. cities and counties, and a threatened suit by the U.S. government, Smith & Wesson agreed to sell guns only through authorized dealers who used safe practices, and to market and design guns more safely than is required under any state or federal laws.  Although Smith & Wesson reneged on the agreement, the settlement shows that significant reforms by gun manufacturers are feasible, and achievable through litigation.

Gun industry accountability is difficult to achieve in the United States because the U.S. Congress enacted special protections to exempt the gun industry from liability and transparency required of every other industry.  The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), enacted in 2005, has been (mis)interpreted by many courts to shield gun companies from some liability under negligence and public nuisance law, although most courts have ruled that violations of gun laws disentitle companies from protection.  The Tiahrt Amendment enacted in 2003 uniquely shields some crime gun data from public disclosure, which also makes litigation more difficult.

GAGV’s solution avoids these roadblocks in the United States by assisting individuals and countries outside of the U.S. in bringing litigation to attain liability and accountability against gun companies that is difficult to achieve in wholly domestic litigation.  PLCAA does not protect gun companies who are sued outside of the U.S.  And PLCAA, properly understood, cannot be applied in lawsuits for harm suffered outside of the U.S., even if the lawsuit is brought domestically.

GAGV presented as an expert on impact gun litigation at an international conference in Mexico City in November 2022.

Ongoing Litigation

Estados Unidos Mexicanos v. Smith & Wesson, et al. (D. Mass. 2021)
Complaint (Aug. 4, 2021)

In 2021, the Government of Mexico brought the first lawsuit by a sovereign country against the gun industry. In 2021, the Government of Mexico brought the first lawsuit by a sovereign country against the gun industry.

The case was heard on July 24, 2023, with argument by GAGV’s Jonathan Lowy and Steve Shadowen for the Government of Mexico.  The argument can be heard here:

On January 22, 2024, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit became the first court to uphold the right of a sovereign country to sue the gun industry, and the first federal appeals court to allow gun manufacturers to be held liable for facilitating gun violence since a U.S. gun industry protection law was enacted in 2005. 

The Court ruled that Mexico v. Smith and Wesson, et al. – the first lawsuit brought by a national government against the gun industry – can proceed, reversing a trial court ruling that held that the federal gun industry shield law (PLCAA) prohibited it.

Price v. Smith & Wesson (Ontario, Canada)

In 2019, a class action lawsuit was filed by victims of a mass shooting in Toronto against Smith & Wesson for its design of the gun.  Malcolm Ruby and other attorneys represent the plaintiffs, with Jonathan Lowy acting as U.S. legal consultant.

Estados Unidos Mexicanos v. Diamondback Shooting Sports, Inc., et al.  (D. Ariz. 2022)
Complaint (Oct. 10, 2022)

In 2022, the Government of Mexico brought a lawsuit against 5 Arizona gun dealers. The case is the first lawsuit alleging RICO claims against the gun industry, and the first by a sovereign country against gun dealers.  GAGV is co-counsel for Mexico, along with Steve Shadowen of Shadowen PLLC.  

On March 24, 2024,  a federal trial court in Arizona held that the Government of Mexico could proceed in its landmark anti-gun trafficking lawsuit against five gun dealers, denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss in most of the claims.

City of Gary v. Smith & Wesson 

GAGV is co-counsel (with Brady and Perkins Coie) in the only ongoing lawsuit by a U.S. government against all major gun manufacturers. The city of Gary, Indiana, first brought the suit in 1999, seeking to hold manufacturers and dealers accountable for negligent sales and distribution practices that supply the criminal gun market. In the past 25 years, Gary has defeated multiple motions to dismiss brought by the industry and won three appeals. By the fall of 2023, the case was in the discovery phase, in which the gun companies are required to turn over documents and submit to testimony under oath. 

However, on March 15, 2024, the Indiana state legislature enacted a bill that targets Gary’s suit by purportedly banning cities from suing gun companies. The bill is retroactive to Aug. 26, 1999 — four days before Gary filed its suit. Defendants have moved to dismiss the case based on this new law. The city is challenging the new law’s constitutionality. 

Gustafson v. Springfield Armory

GAGV is lead counsel for the parents of a 13-year-old boy, J.R. Gustafson, in the only appellate decision to hold that the U.S. federal gun industry protection law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”), is unconstitutional. J.R. was killed by another boy with a gun he thought was unloaded since the magazine was removed. The suit alleged that the gun was defective for failing to include safety features that would have prevented the shooting. 

On January 15, 2019, a trial judge dismissed the case, ruling that PLCAA barred liability. On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania reversed, becoming the first appeals court in the nation to hold that PLCAA is unconstitutional. The defendants appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. 

On April 9, 2024, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania heard oral arguments in the Gustafson appeal, with Jon Lowy arguing on behalf of the J.R.’s family. Kelly Iverson of Lynch Carpenter and lawyers with Brady are co-counsel. A decision is pending. 

U.S. v. Rahimi 

On June 24, 2024, the Supreme Court of the United States, by an 8-1 vote, rejected a Second Amendment challenge to the federal law banning persons subject to a domestic violence restraining order from possessing firearms. In its amicus brief in U.S. v. Rahimi, GAGV argued that the law should be upheld, as did other groups. 

But GAGV was the only major gun violence prevention group to argue that the Supreme Court should reverse its decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller, which overturned 200 years of precedent recognizing the Second Amendment’s intended meaning to protect state militias, and NYSRPA v. Bruen, which held that gun laws required some historical analogue to be constitutional. The Court did not take up GAGV’s call to reverse Heller and Bruen.