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Ninth Circuit upholds dismissal of suit against gun maker for 1999 shooting

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] held [opinion, PDF] Monday that tort claims against a federally licensed gun maker and gun dealer stemming from a 1999 California shooting must be dismissed under a federal statute enacted in 2005. The court concluded that Congress intended the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) [text, PDF], which protects federally licensed gun makers and sellers from civil liability for injuries criminals inflict when using their products against others, to preempt general tort-law claims. The PLCAA requires dismissal of pending civil suits seeking damages for injuries a third party caused using a firearm. The plaintiffs argued the statute is unconstitutional, but the Ninth Circuit determined that the statute, though retroactive, is constitutional because it is in accord with separation-of-powers doctrine, withstands rational-basis review, and does not deprive the plaintiffs of procedural due process. The court also ruled that the PLCAA does not apply to plaintiffs' claims against defendant manufacturer China North [AP report] because China North does not have a federal firearms license. The plaintiffs have not decided if they will appeal the Ninth Circuit's decision.

In 1999, white supremacist Buford Furrow [NYT backgrounder], who illegally possessed at least seven guns, shot and injured five people at a Jewish community center in Granada Hills, California. Later that day, Furrow shot and killed postal worker Joseph Ilteo. The shooting victims and Ileto's widow sued gun makers, marketers, distributors, sellers and importers, including Glock Inc. [corporate website] and a Seattle gun dealer, "under California common law tort statutes for foreseeably and proximately causing injury, emotional distress, and death through knowing, intentional, reckless, and negligent conduct." Plaintiffs claimed the defendants intentionally made, marketed, distributed and sold "more firearms than the legitimate market demands in order to take advantage of re-sales to distributors that they know or should know will, in turn, sell to illegal buyers." The district court dismissed the suit in 2002 for failure to state a claim under state law, but the Ninth Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs stated cognizable state-law negligence claims regarding the guns Furrow actually used in the shootings. Three years later, after Congress passed the PLCAA, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs' suit.

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