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Attorney General William Tong

02/03/2022

Attorney General Tong: Gun Manufactures and Dealers Are Not Exempt from State Consumer Protection Laws

(Hartford, CT) – Attorney General William Tong today joined a coalition of 14 attorneys general in filing a brief with the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts arguing that a federal law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), does not shield gun manufacturers and dealers from consumer laws governing the marketing and sale of firearms.

“PLCAA is not an impenetrable shield against all legal responsibility. Connecticut’s State Supreme Court found that in the Sandy Hook case, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear that appeal. Gun manufacturers who deceive consumers and violate state consumer protection laws can and should be held accountable,” Attorney General Tong said.

The brief, filed Monday in Estados Unidos Mexicanos v. Smith & Wesson Brands, Inc. et al., supports the government of Mexico in a lawsuit brought against seven U.S.-based gun manufacturers, Smith & Wesson, Barrett Firearms, Beretta, Century Arms, Colt, Glock, and Ruger, as well as a Massachusetts-based gun distributor, Interstate Arms. Mexico’s complaint alleges the defendants design, market, distribute, and sell guns in a way they know appeals to drug cartels and violent gangs in Mexico. The coalition’s brief argues against the defendants’ contentions that, through PLCAA, Congress “erected an insurmountable barrier to traditional state law forms of accountability.”

The brief argues that PLCAA should be narrowly interpreted and that federal statutes may not be read to displace traditional areas of state authority, including state consumer protection laws.

“While Congress intended PLCAA to bar lawsuits seeking to hold gun manufacturers and sellers liable for harms committed by third parties, it also preserved remedies for harms committed by manufacturers and sellers themselves, as when they violate consumer protection laws applicable to the sale and marketing of guns,” the coalition wrote in the brief. “Mexico’s lawsuit alleges the defendants themselves knowingly violated common law duties and statutes applicable to the sale or marketing of firearms. PLCAA is not, accordingly, a valid defense to Mexico’s lawsuit.”

Mexico’s complaint alleges a number of claims against the gun manufacturers and distributor, including claims under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, the state’s Chapter 93A, and the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA). According to the brief, PLCAA preserves the right of the plaintiffs to bring actions against gun manufacturers and dealers for knowingly violating these laws. The brief points out that both Connecticut and Massachusetts courts have affirmed that, as a matter of state law, both CUTPA and Chapter 93A apply to the sale or marketing of firearms.

The brief was led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and joined by the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Oregon, as well as the District of Columbia.
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