Mass shootings are unfortunately becoming common in the United States. If a gun is purchased to commit a violent crime, can the gun store face civil charges?

Not under current law. In 2005, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a federal statute which makes gun manufacturers and dealers immune in federal and state court in case their guns are used in a gun crime. The text of PLCAA prohibits civil charges that “result from the criminal or lawful misuse of firearms or ammunition.”

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Are There Any Exceptions to Civil Liability?

While gun store owners are rarely held liable for selling firearms, there are a few exceptions, as outlined below:

  • If the manufacturer or dealer knew the sold firearm would be used to commit a crime of violence and a victim suffered harm as a result, the manufacturer/dealer can be convicted of civil liability.
  • An action against the manufacturer for negligence.
  • An action against a gun store for negligence or negligence per se. A gun store owner cannot sell a gun to a person who is clearly under the influence.
  • An action against a manufacturer who knowingly violated Federal or State law.
  • An action against the manufacturer for a design defect or malfunction which resulted in serious injury or death.
  • An action against the manufacturer for breach of warranty or breach of contract.

Can Gun Store Owners Face Criminal Liability?

No, as it is not a crime to sell guns in the United States. However, if the seller violated the law during a sale, such as disposing of a gun that the owner reasonably believed was used to perpetrate a crime in order to sell the purchaser a new gun, then they can face criminal liability.

What Does the PLCAA Say?

The PLCAA bans some lawsuits against manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and trade associations for firearms and ammunition. Under the PLCAA, lawsuits that result from the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearms, ammunition, or gun components are prohibited. As discussed above, the PLCAA permits civil actions that are based on breach of warranty, breach of contract, and manufacture defect.

There have been several constitutional challenges to the PLCAA. Critics believe that it gives “absolute immunity” to manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and trade associations in the manufacturing and sale of deadly weapons. Notwithstanding, none of the challenges have been successful.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you are a gun store owner who is being sued because of a weapon sold in your store, you should speak with an criminal attorney right away. A lawyer can help advise you of your rights and represent you during settlement negotiations or in court.