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A new weapon in the war on gun violence

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A shooting in Boulder that left 10 dead. A murderous rampage targeting Asian-American women in Atlanta. And a 39-year-old shot dead on a Flatbush street on an otherwise beautiful Sunday evening. All this carnage happened in a single week.

Weapons seized by the NYPD. (NYPD)

Mass shooting events tend to galvanize the public consciousness, but the violence in urban communities like the ones we represent is far more commonplace. In many cities across New York and around the nation, shootings represent an endemic, daily threat, especially for people of color.

At their best, policymakers tend to address urban gun violence by directing additional resources and opportunities toward young people in these communities. Less creatively but more commonly, the solution is simply an increased police presence that often does not serve to reduce the threat of bodily harm to Black and Brown people.

Neither of these address the most obvious source of bloodshed in our streets: The ease with which dangerous weapons are purchased legally in states with lax gun laws, and illegally trafficked up I-95 to cities in the northeast. This route is commonly known as the "Iron Pipeline." Statewide, 74% of crime-involved guns were purchased legally in other states. In Buffalo, 55% of likely-trafficked guns came from just three states: Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

Nearly all American products are subject to civil liability if they are irresponsibly manufactured, marketed or sold — except for firearms. That's because of the near-total immunity enjoyed by the gun industry, thanks to the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), passed by Congress in 2005. So, while the gun industry actively resists efforts to make their products safer and less likely to fall into the wrong hands, they are essentially shielded from any accountability thanks to this law.

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But that law has an exception for state statutes, and we have introduced legislation to meet this moment. PLCAA allows for actions against gun manufacturers or dealers who knowingly violate an existing state law. Our state laws already protect us from dangerous or harmful products that could reasonably be expected to cause injury or death, but do not specifically protect against the harm caused by firearm violence. In nearby Connecticut, families of the Sandy Hook victims have brought suit against Remington Arms in a trial expected to begin in September. It is time that New York enforce its ability to regulate businesses that consistently shirk responsibility for their merchandise.

Our bill would make civil damages accessible to people in New York State who are impacted by the devastating effects of gun violence, providing a small measure of comfort or relief from the trauma and harm inflicted by shootings. It would also create a strong incentive for the gun industry to get serious about how its products are sold, trafficked and used in the real world, and identify ways — such as technology that restricts a gun's operation to a specific person, or in a specific location— to make it harder for these guns to be resold multiple times on the illegal market.

Since introducing this legislation, we've heard from constituents and advocates including former Rep. Gabby Giffords, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and Everytown for Gun Safety who strongly support this effort to take on the industry responsible for so much suffering, injury and death. We have also heard from those who believe our bill would be an unlawful infringement of the Second Amendment.

Don't be fooled: This bill does nothing to impact any individual's right to own a firearm. Instead, our legislation is directed at the large, multinational corporations that knowingly sell dangerous, harmful products while disclaiming any responsibility for how they are used. Our bill holds these manufacturers and dealers to the same standards we use for companies that manufacture light bulbs, car tires and likely the very device you're using to read these words.

In an historic first, this year's state budget recognizes this public health crisis by committing a dedicated funding stream to community-based violence intervention groups. We must now take the next step by using our existing state laws to, finally, hold corporate actors accountable for the harm their products cause. The health of our communities depends on it.

Myrie represents Central Brooklyn and Kennedy represents portions of Buffalo and surrounding suburbs in the state Senate. Fahy represents portions of Albany and surrounding suburbs in the state Assembly.

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