Immunity Statutes in California

Posted on January 2, 2012

See our Immunity Statutes / Manufacturer Litigation policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

California no longer provides legal immunity for the firearms industry, although a federal law enacted in 2005 does. On September 25, 2002, California Governor Gray Davis signed legislation to repeal an immunity law that California adopted in 1983 that had provided special legal protection to the gun industry. That statute had stated that, “[i]n a product liability action, no firearm or ammunition must be deemed defective in design on the basis that the benefits of the product do not outweigh the risk of injury posed by its potential to cause serious injury, damage, or death when discharged.” The California Legislature moved to repeal the immunity law following the California Supreme Court’s decision in Merrill v. Navegar, a case holding that the California immunity law immunized an assault weapons manufacturer from a negligence action brought by the victims of the 101 California Street massacre.1

However, on October 26, 2005, the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”) became law.2 The PLCAA generally immunizes gun manufacturers, distributors, and dealers from liability whenever a person is damaged as a result of the “criminal or unlawful misuse” of a firearm, even if that criminal act or misuse is foreseeable because of industry negligence or recklessness. This sweeping legislation precludes most actions in state as well as federal court and required the immediate dismissal of most pending lawsuits against the gun industry. The PLCAA also nullified California’s repeal of its own immunity law.

The validity and scope of the PLCAA and its exceptions are being tested in courts across the country. For information about these lawsuits and more information about the PLCAA in general, see the Immunity Statutes section of our federal law page.

California law also limits the liability of sport shooting ranges for noise or noise pollution resulting from the range.3

For detailed information about government and private party lawsuits against the gun industry, the status of litigation involving gun industry immunity statutes in various states, or pending gun industry immunity legislation, visit the Brady Center’s Legal Action Project and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence’s Gun Industry Immunity page.

  1. Merrill v. Navegar, 28 P.3d 116 (Cal. 2001). []
  2. 15 U.S.C. §§ 7901 – 7903. []
  3. Cal. Civil Code § 3482.1(b) provides:
    (1) Except as provided in [§ 3482.1(f)], a person who operates or uses a sport shooting range in this state must not be subject to civil liability or criminal prosecution in any matter relating to noise or noise pollution resulting from the operation or use of the range if the range is in compliance with any noise control laws or ordinances that applied to the range and its operation at the time construction or operation of the range was approved by a local public entity having jurisdiction in the matter, or if there were no such laws or ordinances that applied to the range and its operation at that time.
    (2) Except as provided in [§ 3482.1(f)], a person who operates or uses a sport shooting range or law enforcement training range is not subject to an action for nuisance, and a court must not enjoin the use or operation of a range on the basis of noise or noise pollution if the range is in compliance with any noise control laws or ordinances that applied to the range and its operation at the time construction or operation of the range was approved by a local public entity having jurisdiction in the matter, or if there were no such laws or ordinances that applied to the range and its operation at that time.
    Cal. Civ. Code § 3482.1(f) provides that local jurisdictions may require that noise levels at the nearest residential property line to a range not exceed the level of normal city street noise, which must not be more than 60 decibels for nighttime shooting. []