A 2005 law protecting firearms manufacturers from civil liability is unconstitutional, a Pennsylvania appeals court ruled in a Monday filing.
Pennsylvania Superior Court Prothonotary Joseph D. Seletyn on Monday ruled the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) of 2005 violates the 10th Amendment, which states that all powers not specifically delegated to the federal government are the responsibility of states.
The 2005 law says companies shall not be held legally liable for harm caused by those who “criminally or unlawfully misuse firearm products or ammunition products that function as designed and intended.”
After a Pennsylvania 14-year-old accidentally shot and killed his friend J.R. Gustafson in 2016, Gustafson’s parents sued both the gun manufacturer and the retailer where it was purchased. Gustafson’s parents alleged that the semi-automatic did not have a safety feature preventing it from going off without the clip. This, they argued, made the gun defective and both Springfield Armory and Saloom Department Store liable for their son’s death.
In his 63-page ruling, Seletyn wrote that “the only portions of the PLCAA that do not offend the Constitution are its findings and purposes … and a few definitions,” according to CNN.
He also rejected the defense of the law as part of the federal government’s power to govern interstate commerce. A gun being sold across state lines at some point “does not give Congress perpetual authority to regulate any harm it may cause,” he wrote.
Seletyn rejected a Westmoreland County trial judge’s dismissal of the lawsuit, which cited the PLCAA. The case will return to the trial court as a result of Seletyn’s ruling.
“In finding that PLCAA is unconstitutional in its entirety, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania properly recognizes that states have the authority to hold negligent gun makers accountable in court, and to ensure that all victims have the right to seek civil justice against wrongdoers who cause them harm,” Jonathan Lowy, the Gustafsons’ lead attorney, said in a statement. Lowy is also vice president of the pro-gun control Brady Campaign.