White House, state AGs seek ways to hold manufacturers, dealers responsible for gun crimes

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WASHINGTON — White House officials met Thursday with attorneys general from seven states and the District of Columbia to discuss steps they can take to "hold accountable" gun manufacturers and dealers whose firearms wind up in shootings.

The virtual meeting, which lasted an hour, reflected a push by President Joe Biden to enlist states in his strategy to combat soaring gun violence as the Justice Department ramps up efforts at the federal level. Gun-related deaths are up 14% this year over 2020, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a research nonprofit.

A key part of the discussion was expected to center on the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which gives gun manufacturers and dealers blanket immunity for being liable when their products are used to commit crimes. Biden has pushed for Congress to repeal the law, but that's unlikely in the Senate, where it would need 60 votes.

More: New York poised to make it easier to sue gun makers. What would change

White House officials stressed that PLCAA provides a "predicate exception" for states that have their own laws that allow plaintiffs to seek claims against gun manufacturers and dealers for some culpability.

In June, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the nation's first law that seeks to get around the federal gun liability shield. States like Connecticut have used consumer protection or nuisance laws to hold gun manufacturers and dealers accountable for gun violence.

"That doesn't mean that PLCAA still isn't a significant barrier," an administration official told USA TODAY. "One of the key things we need to do is repeal it, and we're still fighting every day for that. But in the meantime, we're going to be creative about talking to states about how they can use existing law to make policy change."

President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus pandemic in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) ORG XMIT: DCSW107
President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus pandemic in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) ORG XMIT: DCSW107

Attorneys general who took part are Karl Racine of the District of Columbia, Letitia James of New York, Andrew Bruck of New Jersey, Rob Bonta of California, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, Bob Ferguson of Washington, Maura Healey of Massachusetts and William Tong of Connecticut. All are Democrats.

They met with Susan Rice, director of Biden's Domestic Policy Council, White House counsel Dana Remus and Julie Rodriguez, White House director for intergovernmental affairs.

Biden's strategy to combat gun violence so far

In April, Biden took executive action to close a regulatory loophole that allowed so-called ghost guns, which lack serial numbers, to be purchased without a background check.

As part of a crime prevention strategy Biden kicked off in June, the Justice Department launched five firearms strike forces to target the illegal flow of weapons across state lines into New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area and Washington, D.C.

More: 'It has to end': Biden targets illegal gun sales, rogue dealers in strategy to combat rising crime

The Justice Department also created a zero-tolerance policy allowing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to revoke federal licenses of gun dealers the first time they violate federal law. Biden encouraged states and cities to use their share of COVID-19 rescue funds on publicly safety efforts and local law enforcement.

Biden has been unable to gain Republican support in Congress to pass sweeping gun control legislation. He has called for Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban and pass legislation to close loopholes in gun background checks. But like the repeal of PLCAA, the legislative proposals face resistance from Republicans in the evenly divided Senate.

Even though Biden has said he supports more funding for police, Republicans plan to seize on the crime surge – and the "defund the police" mantra of some liberals – to attack Democrats in a bid to take back control of the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gun violence: White House, state AGs huddle on accountability

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