Federal Judge Dismisses Challenge to AG Ferguson-Requested law to Hold gun Industry Accountable

Gun Rights

SPOKANE A federal judge today agreed with Attorney General Bob Ferguson and dismissed a challenge to Washington’s new law that ensures gun manufacturers and dealers — like other purveyors of dangerous goods — must take reasonable steps to prevent their products from getting into the wrong hands.

U.S. District Court Judge Mary Dimke dismissed National Shooting Sports Foundation v. Ferguson today. The National Shooting Sports Foundation challenged Senate Bill 5078, trying to block the new law from going into effect. Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee jointly requested SB 5078, known as the Firearm Industry Responsibility & Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Justice Act. The new law ensures that firearms manufacturers and sellers will face liability if they fail to establish, implement and enforce reasonable controls in the manufacture, sale, distribution and marketing of firearms.

“My legal team remains undefeated against the gun lobby in court,” Ferguson said. “This law protects Washingtonians from gun violence by ensuring that gun industry members face real accountability when their irresponsible conduct harms our communities.”

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Changes in federal law since 2005 have shielded the gun industry from liability and barred lawsuits — even when their negligence is provable.

That law, the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), shields gun manufacturers and sellers from liability in some circumstances. However, Congress invited states to regulate firearm sales and marketing practices by exempting such state laws from PLCAA. SB 5078 creates such a law.

Four other states — Delaware, New York, New Jersey and California — have adopted similar legislation, and courts have upheld laws that fall under the PLCAA exception allowing for state regulation of firearm sales and marketing.

The New York law, similar to SB 5078, has already survived a challenge in federal court.

Solicitor General Noah Purcell, Deputy Solicitors General Emma Grunberg and Tera Heintz, Assistant Attorneys General Sarah Smith and Joseph Ehle, and paralegals Leena Vanderwood, Kelsi Zweifel and Renae Smith are handling the case for Washington.

The Attorney General’s Office is undefeated in defending state law from attacks by the gun lobby:

  • Brumback v. Ferguson (Eastern District of Washington) — This case challenging Washington’s ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines was brought by Gimme Guns and others, represented by the Silent Majority Foundation. Ferguson defeated a motion for a preliminary injunction in September 2023, allowing the law to remain in effect. The case is currently stayed pending the outcome of Duncan v. Bonta at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments in Duncan are scheduled for March 19.
     
  • Sullivan v. Ferguson (Western District of Washington) — This case challenging Washington’s ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines was filed by the Second Amendment Foundation and others. It is also currently stayed pending the outcome of Duncan v. Bonta.
     
  • Mitchell v. Atkins (Western District of Washington) — This case, filed by the National Rifle Association, Second Amendment Foundation and others, challenged Initiative 1639. The AG’s office won a partial motion to dismiss in 2019, and partial summary judgment in 2020. Plaintiffs appealed, and after the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings in light of the decision. In November 2023, plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed all but one claim (related to the dormant commerce clause). In February 2024, the court granted the state’s motion for summary judgment on the remaining claim, and dismissed the case.
     
  • Guardian Arms v. Inslee (Thurston County Superior Court) — Plaintiffs including the Silent Majority Foundation challenge House Bill 1240, which bans the sale of assault weapons in Washington. We defeated a motion for a temporary restraining order in June of 2023, and a preliminary injunction motion in September of 2023, allowing the law to remain in effect. The plaintiffs appealed the PI decision, but the state Supreme Court denied their request for discretionary review. This case is proceeding toward trial in 2025.
     
  • Hartford, et al. v. Ferguson, et al. (Western District of Washington) — Plaintiffs including the Second Amendment Foundation and the Firearms Policy Coalition challenge House Bill 1240, which bans the sale of assault weapons in Washington. The court denied plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction in June 2023, allowing the law to remain in effect. The case is currently stayed pending the outcome of Duncan v. Bonta at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
     
  • Silent Majority Foundation v. Inslee (Thurston County Superior Court) — Plaintiffs including the Silent Majority Foundation challenge House Bill 1705, banning ghost guns. The case originated in Stevens County, where the court denied plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction in March 2023. The court also granted our motion to transfer the case to Thurston County Superior Court, and the plaintiffs appealed that decision. However, the court of appeals declined to review it.
     
  • Banta v. Ferguson (Eastern District of Washington) — This case, filed by Aero Precision, National Shooting Sports Foundation and others, challenges House Bill 1240, which bans the sale of assault weapons in Washington. The court heard arguments on a motion for preliminary injunction in August 2023 but has not yet ruled.
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