AUGUSTA – The House of Representatives has advanced a bill to allow civil lawsuits against gun manufacturers who irresponsibly market and sell firearms.

It’s the first major piece of gun legislation to receive a floor vote since the mass shooting in Lewiston, when Robert Card Jr. used an assault-style semi-automatic gun to kill 18 people and wound 13. Other gun safety bills, including a waiting period for purchases, expanded background checks and a ban on rapid fire devices, are also pending in the Legislature.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, was tabled in the Senate Friday morning, after clearing the House by a  76-72 vote Thursday night, with six Democrats joining Republicans in opposition.

“Almost every industry in our country is held accountable through civil liability,” Millett said. “If your child is injured by a toy, the toy manufacturer is often found liability. If your child ingests toxic fumes in a building, the building owner is responsible. But (it’s) not so, if your child is shot.”‘

The bill, which was filed last year but has taken on more significance since the Lewiston shooting, seeks to unwind federal protections for gun manufacturers adopted in 2015. The federal law allows civil suits only if they are knowingly endangering the public through irresponsible marketing.

Gun manufacturers have a certain amount of immunity from lawsuits under a federal law signed by President George W. Bush in 2005. But that federal law contains exceptions, including in cases of defective firearms or when businesses knowingly violate state statutes regarding the sale or marketing of a firearm. Millett’s bill would establish state standards and provide a basis for those lawsuits to move forward in Maine.


L.D. 1696, which received a split committee vote, would allow either a victim of gun violence or the state attorney general to file a civil lawsuit in Maine superior courts against a gunmaker, distributor or others in the industry who market their weapons and accessories to minors, people prohibited from possessing firearms or “in any manner that is unconscionable, unscrupulous, oppressive or deceptive.”

Republicans argued that the bill conflicts with federal law and the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.

“This bill provides a tool to attack this constitutionally protected industry that provides the tools for constitutionally protected behavior,” said Rep. Donald Ardell, R-Monticello.

If approved, Maine would join eight other states with similar laws, including New York, California and Colorado, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

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