Gun Makers Have Been Accused of Marketing to Gangs. Michigan’s Attorney General Wants to Hold Them Accountable.

By Isaac Constans

February 8, 2022

Gun companies have stated that they’re exempt from accountability laws that apply to other industries. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is challenging that.

Need to Know

  • Gun companies are protected from legal fallout for when their guns are used to injure and kill.
  • The Mexican government has sued US gun manufacturers for allegedly intentionally marketing and selling to dangerous individuals, including gangs.
  • Michigan AG Dana Nessel wants to open up gun companies to consumer protection rules that apply to other industries.

LANSING—At Attorney General Dana Nessel’s direction, Michigan has joined several states in a legal motion arguing gun manufacturers and dealers can be held accountable to some degree for their part in violent crimes. 

Passed in 2005, the Protection of Lawful Commerce of Arms Act (PLCAA) shields gun makers from legal recourse if their products are used to injure or kill. But courts have interpreted the federal law more broadly, at times protecting companies like Smith & Wesson and Beretta from being sued for allegedly marketing and selling guns recklessly and negligently.

Nessel and other Attorney Generals contest gun manufacturers’ special standing flies in the face of state consumer protection laws, which are designed to keep the public safe from corporate foul play.

“Like any other companies, gun manufacturers and dealers must be held accountable for the way they market and sell their products, especially when these products are ending up in the hands of dangerous individuals,” Nessel said.

Why This Is Coming Up Now

The Mexican government recently filed a case in US court against several prominent gun dealers, saying that they willfully market their products to appeal to criminal gangs, thus fueling a violent drug war with repercussions far beyond its borders. In response, the defendants have argued that consumer protection laws that apply to other major industries don’t apply to them, saying the PLCAA is an “insurmountable barrier to traditional state law forms of accountability.”

Many top officials disagree.

Nessel supports Mexico’s stance. And across the country, legal experts say that while the law guards gun companies from responsibility for crimes committed with their weapons, they are not free to advertise and distribute their products however they please.

If Mexico were to win the case, it would have legal ramifications stretching from the southern border to Michigan.

What It Means in Michigan

In Michigan, Nessel could work to enforce state consumer protection laws in cases where gun companies irresponsibly market or sell their products—which could presumably include instances in which individuals who are not fit to have guns obtain them.

The release from Nessel’s office did not make clear whether this description would fit the Oxford High School shooting, where a 15-year-old boy who used his parents’ gun and displayed numerous warning signs beforehand killed four students at his high school.

Having taken office in 2019, Nessel has remained an advocate for responsible gun usage. In December, she encouraged Congress and the state legislature to take up laws to promote gun safety.

“We must prioritize our kids over guns. Their futures depend on it,” Nessel said. 


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