Davis signs laws removing protections for gun industry

Angela Watercutter The Associated Press
Thursday September 26, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Gov. Gray Davis cleared the way Wednesday for Californians to sue gun manufacturers if they believe the companies have been negligent in the advertising or production of firearms. 

The package of bills Davis signed removes a shield granted to gun makers regarding negligence lawsuits. Previously, gun manufacturers could not be sued if their products were used in the commission of a crime. 

A number of states have similar legal shields for gun makers. California is the first state to repeal such an immunity. 

“No industry should be allowed to hide from its own harmful conduct,” Davis said in a telephone press conference. “And except for gun manufacturers, no industry is. Current laws shield a gun manufacturer from its own negligence. These new laws strip away that shield.” 

California’s new laws have already gained the praise of gun control advocates. 

“These bills were our top priority this year, we’re thrilled that the governor has stuck by his position on this,” said Eric Gorovitz, Western policy director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, a national grassroots organization. 

Gorovitz said he hopes the measure will make the gun industry more responsible because of the threat of lawsuits. 

Critics of the bills, however, argue that they could open the door to frivolous lawsuits. And, Chuck Michel, a spokesman for the California Rifle and Pistol Association, Inc., says the legislation is an attempt by gun-ban advocates to swamp gun manufacturers with lawsuits to bankrupt them. 

“They will use this to file multiple lawsuits based on their mistaken belief that firearms have no social utility,” Michel said. “They want a legitimate industry to pay for the inability of law enforcement and local authorities to control violent crimes.” 

The new law removes a lawsuit shield enacted in 1983 to protect manufacturers of cheaply made handguns known as Saturday Night Specials. 

The shield was cited by the state Supreme Court last year when it ruled that a gun company couldn’t be sued by survivors of a 1993 rampage for damages done when criminals use their products illegally. 

Also Wednesday, Davis signed 14 identity theft bills, including one that keeps mother’s maiden names and Social Security numbers out of public birth and death indexes. 

Supporters said the laws are needed to keep sensitive information out of criminals’ hands, but others said the restrictions will needlessly hurt law-abiding people, including genealogists and adoptees seeking birth records. 

“It is a terrible precedent,” said Terry Francke, general counsel for the California First Amendment Coalition. “There was no demonstrated harm. And I mean none.”