PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey has signed legislation to declare gun shops as as “essential’’ and protect them, firearms manufacturers and even trade associations like the National Rifle Association from being sued by those who are killed or injured by their products.
The move comes despite the fact that the governor, in issuing last year his ongoing declaration of emergency, specifically declared that places where guns and ammo are sold are “essential’’ and exempt from any closure requirements due to COVID-19.
And it also comes despite the fact that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, approved by Congress in 2005, already shields manufacturers and dealers from being held liable when crimes are committed with their products.
But Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, pointed out that President Joe Biden, asked what would be his top priority in his gun violence agenda, said that would be to repeal the law. And Nguyen said he wants something in place in Arizona should that happen.
Ducey, in inking his approval to the measure, echoed that theme.
“With efforts currently underway in Washington to erode Second Amendment rights, Arizona is taking action to protect those rights,’’ he said in a prepared statement.
“Bad actors need to be held accountable, and we will work to make sure they are,’’ said Ducey.
Press aide C.J. Karamargin said his boss believes that the law still allows “legitimate’’ lawsuits against gun manufacturers and sellers. But he could not cite a specific instance of what kinds of litigation could proceed.
In fact, after stiff opposition from gun-rights groups, Ducey years ago abandoned the one gun violence bill he proposed years ago: Allow judges to issue a Severe Threat Order of Protection (STOP). Those orders would have required people who own firearms to submit to mental evaluations and to have police take their weapons pending such examinations.
“But we are not going to allow lawsuit after lawsuit to slowly tear down the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens in hour state,’’ the governor said in his statement.
Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, chided Republican colleagues for approving this measure, which has no immediate effect, rather than dealing with the underlying issues of gun violence.
“People want us to talk about that,’’ he said. Instead, Rodriguez said, the legislature is dealing with “these bogeyman stories of people coming into your homes, trying to take your guns.’’
“No one is advocating that,’’ he continued. “What we would like to see is a heartfelt, meaningful, substantive discussion of the issue of gun violence in this country.’’
Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-had her own perspective on what she said has been the failure of state lawmakers to address gun violence.
“The reason I am sitting here explaining my vote is unfettered access to firearms,’’ she told colleagues.
Longdon is in a wheelchair, having been paralyzed in a 2004 incident where an unknown gunman fired at her and her finance. He was left blind and with brain damage.
“I, too, support the Second Amendment,’’ she said. And Longdon brushed aside concerns that Arizonans were in danger of losing their access to weapons.
“Last year, gun sales in Arizona during this pandemic rose by 101%,’’ she said.
“No one was denied lawful access to purchase a firearm,’’ Longdon continued. “So why bother’’ passing new laws like this, she asked.
“We bother because we have an administration that’s made it clear they want to infringe on our Second Amendment,’’ responded Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City.
“You have a threat from the administration in D.C. that says, ‘We’re going to sue gun manufacturers for a mass shooting,’ which makes absolutely zero sense,’’ he said. “It’s the person behind the gun, it’s the person behind the knife, it’s the person behind the fist that causes the shooting, the stabbing, the assault.’’
Nguyen said it’s even more basic than that.
“Part of my job as a representative is to protect business and jobs,’’ he said, not only in his district but in the entire state. “And I believe this bill will do just that.’’
Nguyen said he has a particularly unique perspective on the right to bear arms, having been born in Vietnam in 1962 and emigrating to the United States after the war.
“I know what it’s like to live in a country with no Second Amendment,’’ he said. “I’ve seen people killed, I’ve seen people die without the ability to defend themselves.’’
Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, said he saw no reason to carve out a special exemption from liability for the gun industry.
Hernandez has been a supporter of stronger laws on gun access since he was at the 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, He was an intern who helped organize the “Congress on Your Corner’’ event in Tucson and helped to staunch the flow of blood from her head.
Nguyen said this isn’t unique.
He cited the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act which provides immunity to manufacturers for their products. That law, however, also sets up a system of compensation for those found to be injured by certain vaccine.
Nguyen also pointed to the General Aviation Revitalization Act, a 1994 federal law that shields the manufacturers of aircraft and their component parts from liability from lawsuits. But, here, too, it is not blanket immunity but only against lawsuit filed more than 18 years after the aircraft or part was first manufactured.
The new law not only prohibits such lawsuits from being filed but requires a court, if it tosses the claim based on the law, to assess legal fees and costs against the person who filed it.
The new Arizona law does contain exceptions.
For example, lawsuits alleging breach of warranty would remain legal. So would those in cases of death, physical injury or property damage “resulting directly from a defect in the design or manufacture of the qualified product’’ if it is being used as intended.