For Release: Wednesday, October 22, 2003
S. 1751 Would Have Benefitted Unregulated Gun Industry at Expense of Victims of Firearms Violence
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Violence Policy Center (VPC), a national gun violence prevention organization, hailed today’s vote by the U.S. Senate in opposition to S. 1751, the “Class Action Fairness Act.” The VPC opposes the bill as an egregious invasion of the rights of victims of gun violence and firearm consumers. The bill would deny victims of gun violence the right to have their cases heard in state courts. It would also deny state courts the ability to decide how their state laws should apply to the gun industry. Proponents of the bill fell one vote short of the 60 necessary to end a filibuster.
“Because firearms are exempt from federal safety regulation, class action litigation is often the only practical remedy for gun consumers seeking compensation for defective firearms,” states Kristen Rand, legislative director for the VPC.
S. 1751 would have forced most class action lawsuits into federal court, placing victims of firearms violence at a distinct disadvantage. Victims of firearms violence who pursue remedies in federal court fare far worse than those who seek relief in state court.
For example, a federal court and a state court in New Jersey have issued directly contradictory rulings on whether New Jersey law permits the gun industry to be sued for creating a public nuisance. A federal appeals court in New Jersey dismissed a suit brought against the gun industry by Camden County, New Jersey, alleging the industry created a public nuisance. The suit was dismissed because the court found no New Jersey precedent supporting the County’s public nuisance claim. Yet in March 2003, a New Jersey state court issued a ruling allowing the plaintiffs’ claims of negligence and public nuisance to proceed.
This example demonstrates the additional hurdles that victims of gun violence often face in federal court. It also illustrates how court resources can be wasted when federal courts are forced to interpret novel areas of state law.