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Curbing Gun Violence Under PLCAA and Bruen: State Attorney General–Driven Solutions to the Surging Epidemic

By David Lamb. Full Text.

At the same time that the deadly toll of gun violence continues to grow in the U.S., now taking nearly 50,000 lives per year, federal lawmakers and courts have increasingly constrained government authorities’ tools for fighting the epidemic. Pursuant to a federal statute that the U.S. Congress enacted in 2005, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”), the gun industry is shielded from most civil lawsuits. And under a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, state governments can no longer limit individuals’ right to possess or carry firearms except by laws that are analogous to restrictions on gun ownership extant in the U.S. during the time of the adoption of the Second Amendment in 1791. The collision of statutory shields for gun-makers and gun-sellers with precedential limits on the power of state legislatures to serve as “laboratories of democracy” has unleashed an era characterized by surging gun violence and a sense of powerlessness among the state legislative and law enforcement bodies tasked with protecting the public interest. Yet inventive pathways remain for state attorneys general (“SAGs”) to protect the public from gun violence. In particular, novel litigation strategies offer avenues for SAGs to combat harmful actions perpetrated by the gun industry; and a range of state statutory reforms, which SAGs can champion, promise to reduce gun violence’s grim toll. This Essay explores these opportunities, highlighting and analyzing key strategies for state attorneys general to save lives.