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Gun manufacturers, ammunition makers and firearms sellers would be protected from lawsuits by victims of gun crimes or accidents under a bill being proposed in the Utah Legislature.
HB298, sponsored by Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, copies language already in federal law and extends to the firearms companies immunity from lawsuits that might be filed at the state court.
"What it does is mirror the federal act at the state level," Fawson said. "The problem really has been that the federal act is being challenged, so if something happened to the federal act, I want to make sure we have the same protections for manufacturers."
The effect, if the bill becomes law, would be that a victim of a gun crime or accidental shooting would not be able to sue the gun maker, ammunition producer or the gun seller unless the plaintiff can show there was "gross negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct."
"There's no immunity if something illegal happens," said Fawson.
But the bill sets a much higher bar for plaintiffs than is currently in law for anyone who might seek to sue a gun-maker or retailer.
Such lawsuits do not appear to be plaguing the courts and Fawson could not point to an influx of cases.
In 2008, two survivors of the Trolley Square massacre Carolyn Tuft and Stacy Hanson sued Rocky Mountain Enterprises and Sportsman's Fastcash & Pawn, which sold the pistol-grip shotgun to 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic a violation of federal law prohibiting the sale of such shotguns to customers under 21 years old.
Talovic opened fire in the shopping mall, killing five, including Tuft's 15-year-old daughter, Kirsten Hinckley. Hanson was shot three times and is a paraplegic. Tuft was also wounded, has lead pellets lodged in her body and suffers ongoing complications.
Both lawsuits were settled in 2013. The terms of the settlements were confidential.
The Utah Association for Justice, which represents the state's trial lawyers, said Utah consumers including gun owners deserve the existing protections of the U.S. and Utah constitutions.
"This bill, as currently drafted, removes the right of a law-abiding, card-carrying NRA member from bringing a negligence action against a gun or ammunition manufacturer or seller when that manufacturer or seller ... acts irresponsibly and unreasonably causing harm to the law abiding gun-owners of Utah," the association said in a statement.
The UAJ argues that there are no examples of "maverick judicial officers or juries" that have expanded the gun-makers' liability and the law could have "potential unintended consequences on legitimate, well-founded lawsuits."
The federal language giving gunmakers immunity has become a point of contention in the Democratic presidential campaign, with Hillary Clinton accusing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders of flip-flopping on the issue.
Sanders voted for the immunity in 2005. Now Sanders is co-sponsoring a bill to repeal the immunity language.
It's the potential for repeal that has prompted Fawson's bill.
"It's more of a protection on the state level because of the potential impact at the federal level," Fawson said. "It also reasserts our Second Amendment rights … and calls out those specifics about gun manufacturers, which we have a lot of in Utah."
The bill is awaiting a hearing in the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.