New office in N.J. will focus on suing gun manufacturers

by Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor

State officials Monday announced the creation of a new office to bring legal action against gun manufacturers, dealers, and sellers, thanks to legislation signed by the governor intended to hold the gun industry responsible for shooting deaths. 

The office will bring civil actions against firearm companies that violate state gun laws and that “knowingly and recklessly contribute to a public nuisance in New Jersey through unlawful or unreasonable conduct,” acting Attorney General Matt Platkin said in a statement.

The office’s enhanced civil enforcement authority aims to “remedy unlawful conduct by manufacturers, distributors, and others in the supply chain,” said Platkin, who will oversee the office.

The state Division of Consumer Affairs has previously filed multiple lawsuits against companies accused of unlawfully advertising or selling guns to New Jersey residents, including ghost guns and weapons with large-capacity magazines. But without the public nuisance statute, the state has been limited in who it can pursue action against, Platkin said.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill earlier this month. It allows the state to bring lawsuits against gun sellers and dealers that “fail to maintain reasonable controls relating to their sale, manufacturing, distribution, importing, or marketing of gun-related products.” 

Federal law gives gun companies and dealers protection from being held liable when crimes are committed with products they make or sell. New Jersey isn’t the first to pass a law intended to circumvent this broad immunity: New York and California recently passed similar laws. 

New Jersey has some of the lowest gun deaths in the county — about 5 per 100,000 annually from 2014 through 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which Platkin credited to the state’s strict gun laws. Still, he added, there are hundreds of firearm-related deaths here every year.

It’s unclear whether New Jersey’s strategy will stand the test of other legal challenges. Several pro-gun rights groups, alleging the law is unconstitutional, claimed they would sue the state while it was making its way through legislative committees. The Legislature took up the bill in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. 

Alex Roubian, president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, said the group looks forward to suing the state and “winning in court to overturn this ridiculous and unconstitutional law that demonstrates their hatred toward the Constitution and America.”

“It is very clear,” he said of Murphy and Platkin, “they want to destroy and undermine our constitutional rights under the guise of safety by driving anyone in the firearms industry to bankruptcy.”

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