In October of 2005, the Protection in Lawful Commerce of Arms Act (PLCAA) took effect. Its purpose was simple – to shield manufacturers and sellers of qualified products from civil suits brought by victims and/or their families for the misuse of their product. Congress specifically stated in its findings that
Businesses in the United States that are engaged in interstate and foreign commerce through the lawful design, manufacture, marketing, distribution, importation, or sale to the public of firearms or ammunition products that have been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce are not, and should not, be liable for the harm caused by those who criminally or unlawfully misuse firearm products or ammunition products that function as designed and intended.
Nine (9) days after the tragedy in Las Vegas, the first lawsuit has been filed against Slide Fire by three (3) individuals. Which begs the question, does the PLCAA shield Slide Fire and other manufacturers of accessories from such a lawsuit? This article will have 3 different sections: 1) what the PLCAA is and protects, 2) whether I believe Slide Fire is protected under the PLCAA, and 3) why it is important for manufacturers of firearm accessories to obtain an FFL.
What is the PLCAA?
The PLCAA precludes a qualified civil liability action from being brought in Federal or State court. While the wording of § 7902 is rather simple, it is the definitions are where the real analysis takes place.
The law defines a qualified civil liability action as
a civil action or proceeding…brought by any person against a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product…for damages, punitive damages, injunctive or declaratory relief, abatement, restitution, fines, or penalties, or other relief, resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a qualified product by the person or a third party…
In order to better understand what the law protects, we’ll need to examine the definitions of a few other terms.
The term “manufacturer” means
with respect to a qualified product, a person who is engaged in the business of manufacturing the product in interstate or foreign commerce and who is licensed to engage in business as such a manufacturer under [The Gun Control Act]
The term “seller” means
with respect to a qualified product—
(A) an importer (as defined in section 921(a)(9) of [The Gun Control Act]) who is engaged in the business as such an importer in interstate or foreign commerce and who is licensed to engage in business as such an importer under [The Gun Control Act];
(B) a dealer (as defined in section 921(a)(11) of [The Gun Control Act]) who is engaged in the business as such a dealer in interstate or foreign commerce and who is licensed to engage in business as such a dealer under [The Gun Control Act]; or
(C) a person engaged in the business of selling ammunition (as defined in section 921(a)(17)(A) of [The Gun Control Act]) in interstate or foreign commerce at the wholesale or retail level.
Qualified product is another term that Congress defined. A qualified product
means a firearm (as defined in subparagraph (A) or (B) of section 921(a)(3) of [The Gun Control Act]), including any antique firearm (as defined in section 921(a)(16) of [The Gun Control Act]), or ammunition (as defined in section 921(a)(17)(A) of [The Gun Control Act]), or a component part of a firearm or ammunition, that has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce. (Emphasis added).
The law does provide six (6) specific exemptions to the general rule. They include
an action brought against a transferor convicted under section 924(h) of [The Gun Control Act]
, or a comparable or identical State felony law, by a party directly harmed by the conduct of which the transferee is so convicted;
(ii) an action brought against a seller for negligent entrustment or negligence per se;
(iii) an action in which a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product knowingly violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product, and the violation was a proximate cause of the harm for which relief is sought, including—
(I) any case in which the manufacturer or seller knowingly made any false entry in, or failed to make appropriate entry in, any record required to be kept under Federal or State law with respect to the qualified product, or aided, abetted, or conspired with any person in making any false or fictitious oral or written statement with respect to any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale or other disposition of a qualified product; or
any case in which the manufacturer or seller aided, abetted, or conspired with any other person to sell or otherwise dispose of a qualified product, knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that the actual buyer of the qualified product was prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm or ammunition under subsection (g) or (n) of section 922 of [The Gun Control Act]
(iv) an action for breach of contract or warranty in connection with the purchase of the product;
(v) an action for death, physical injuries or property damage resulting directly from a defect in design or manufacture of the product, when used as intended or in a reasonably foreseeable manner, except that where the discharge of the product was caused by a volitional act that constituted a criminal offense, then such act shall be considered the sole proximate cause of any resulting death, personal injuries or property damage; or
Simply put, in order to be protected under the PLCAA, the person manufacturing or selling the product has to 1) fall within the definition of “manufacturer”, “seller” or “trade association” (which I did not cover in this article), 2) manufacture or sell a qualified product, and 3) be sued by a person for a person’s criminal or unlawful misuse. If none of the six enumerated exemptions apply, the lawsuit must be dismissed.
Does the PLCAA Protect Slide Fire?
While there is plenty of caselaw regarding the PLCAA, I have not seen any where accessories have been implicated. Obviously, the crux of the argument with regards to the PLCAA applying to Slide Fire would be that their product is a component part.
As we saw above, in order for the PLCAA to apply, Slide Fire must either meet the definition of Manufacturer or Seller. Fortunately for Slide Fire, they are a Type 07 FFL, which puts them into the definition of a Manufacturer under the PLCAA.
The Slide Fire stocks are qualified products (being that they are “a component part of a firearm”). So it would naturally follow that the PLCAA would apply.
Why is it Important Manufacturers of Firearm Accessories Obtain an FFL?
If you haven’t guessed by now, we need to return to the definitions. The protection of the PLCAA is extended to manufacturers, importers, and dealers who are licensed under the Gun Control Act (also persons engaged in the business of selling ammunition at the wholesale or retail level). By obtaining an FFL, a company can place itself under the umbrella of the PLCAA, where they may otherwise not have the protections of the Act.
Had Slide Fire not been a licensed manufacturer (or dealer or importer) it is likely that they would be an open target to be sued without the PLCAA coming into play.
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