What is PLCAA?
PLCAA Allows the Gun Industry to Put Profits Over People
In 2005, President George W. Bush signed the top legislative priority of the corporate gun industry into law — the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).
PLCAA significantly contributes to the gun violence epidemic by enabling the gun industry to evade accountability, at the expense of victims of gun violence who are denied their right to hold the gun industry accountable for harm they have suffered. This law was passed in response to cities and individuals challenging the dangerous business practices of firearms manufacturers and retailers.
PLCAA has enabled firearm companies to put profits over people and has created a chilling effect on litigation against the industry, leaving victims and survivors of gun violence without adequate redress for their injuries. PLCAA has also removed key incentives for the gun industry to adopt life-saving business practices and instead has provided cover to irresponsible gun dealers who supply the criminal gun market.
How does PLCAA Work?
Even though PLCAA was not intended to prevent gun industry actors from avoiding accountability for misconduct, the gun industry claims that PLCAA provides it with immunity from civil liability, even where they have caused harm through negligence, defective products, or irresponsible behavior.
At the time PLCAA was before the Congress, lead sponsor and then NRA board member, Sen. Larry Craig, claimed that “this bill will not prevent a single victim from obtaining relief for wrongs done to them by anyone in the gun industry.”
Many courts have misread and misapplied the law as providing overly broad protections to the gun industry. Specifically, except for narrow exceptions, PLCAA has prohibited proceedings against manufacturers or sellers for relief related to the criminal or unlawful misuse of a firearm.
Negligence is the most fundamental principle of civil justice in our legal system — it requires everyone in society to use reasonable care to not expose others to harm and holds them accountable when they cause harm by engaging in unreasonably dangerous conduct. Every business and person in America can be held accountable for their negligence — except the gun industry under some courts’ interpretation of PLCAA.
Why is PLCAA Dangerous?
PLCAA Denies Justice to Victims and Survivors
Gun dealers and manufacturers should be held responsible for negligent and irresponsible sales practices that lead to an individual’s injuries or deaths, and for selling firearms to somebody likely to harm themself or others. Manufacturers who design firearms without life-saving safety features, such as chamber-loaded indicators and magazine disconnect safeties, should also be held liable for their design failures.
PLCAA denies victims their constitutional right to civil justice under the 5th Amendment, preventing them from receiving compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other debilitating effects of gun violence.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recognized the unconstitutionality of PLCAA, ruling that states have the authority to hold negligent gun dealers accountable in court and victims have the right to seek civil justice against wrongdoers who cause them harm.
PLCAA Perpetuates the flow of Crime Guns into Communities of Color
The latest available data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reveals that just 2.7% of dealers accounted for over 71% of crime gun traces. This small minority of gun dealers, that are the sources of crime guns recovered in communities of color, typically sit outside those communities in less diverse and more affluent suburbs.
Residents of these impacted communities suffer from the chronic stress of daily interpersonal gun violence and the negative effects on their communities’ economic prosperity, without recourse or compensation, while irresponsible gun dealers face no consequences.
While gun violence touches Americans across the country, it disproportionately impacts communities of color. Approximately 80% of America’s gun deaths occur in urban areas with large minority populations. Black Americans are 11 times more likely than their white peers to be the victim of firearm homicide, and this problem is exacerbated for Black males, who lose four years in life expectancy based on gun violence alone.
PLCAA Disincentivizes Responsible Business Practices
The threat of civil liability motivates companies to adopt safe business practices. For example, car manufacturers made numerous safety improvements that have cut automobile-related deaths by 50% since the 1960s, primarily because of advancements spurred by fear of liability.
PLCAA effectively removed this motivation for the gun industry, disincentivizing gun dealers from adopting safe sales practices, gun manufacturers from incorporating affordable life-saving safety devices into their products, and the gun industry from monitoring their distribution practices.
These common gun industry practices create the conditions necessary for most gun violence to occur. The limitations on litigation and the ability to hold the industry accountable prevent public awareness and deter regulatory changes, as well as disincentivize independent action by the industry to avoid liability — all of which would reduce gun violence and save lives.
What is Being Done in Response to PLCAA?
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), Dwight Evans (D-PA), and Jason Crow (D-CO) have introduced the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act to repeal PLCAA, ensuring justice for victims and survivors and removing barriers to holding irresponsible gun industry actors accountable.