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Bill would allow Illinoisans to sue gunmakers, dealers over gun violence

Gun and bullets. (WICS)
Gun and bullets. (WICS)
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A new bill (HB4156) filed in the Illinois House of Representatives on Tuesday, Sept. 28, would allow any Illinoisan to sue gun manufacturers, importers, or dealers whose guns cause injury or death within the state.

The Protecting Heartbeats Act is modeled after the controversial Texas abortion bill, which allows private citizens to sue other citizens that aid or perform an abortion.

Along with previously introduced legislation, some Illinois Democrats are continuing their effort to argue that if Texas is deputizing citizens against those that aid or perform abortions, then Illinois will do the same and allow citizens to sue manufacturers or dealers whose guns cause a death.

"I’m exploiting essentially the argument that was made in Texas and the Supreme Court's argument and applying it to a bill that I think will do a lot of good,” Rep. Margaret Croke, D-Chicago, said.

Filed by Rep. Croke, the legislation would mandate that damages resulting from the lawsuits would start at $10,000.

Some critics like the Illinois State Rifle Association (ISRA) say the bill is a political ploy meant to garner publicity, and not to actually pass through the General Assembly.

"The only way to stop those sorts of crimes is to arrest the person, convict them, and keep them in jail for a long time,” ISRA Executive Director Richard Pearson said.

ISRA has not taken an official stance on the legislation, yet.

For Croke, she admits the bill faces an uphill battle to get passed.

"Just because it is a law right now, and people would say that it's unconstitutional for us to bring this forward, doesn't mean I’m not going to keep challenging it,” Croke said. “If people feel it's political, that's their opinion. But if it's political and it still prevents a 3-year-old from dying and getting shot in my city, then I’m going to do it.”

Illinois gun rights groups aren't the only challenge the proposed law would face.

Under the federal 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, it's illegal for gun manufacturers to be held liable if their products are used in a crime. It’s a law President Joe Biden has expressed his support for repealing.

Croke says the federal law doesn't apply to straw dealers, and it’s why the word “dealers” is broadly defined in the legislation as ”any person or entity that transfers a firearm to another person or entity.”

"I consider a straw dealer someone who goes out and buys a gun legally from a gun shop, has that gun, then transfers it illegally," Croke said.

Croke explained that her bill contains a severability clause, which means that if the U.S. Supreme Court throws out one part of the bill, other parts like suing straw dealers would have a better chance at moving forward.

Croke says that as the Protecting Heartbeats Act was being crafted, a report from the Chicago Tribune found that one stolen gun from a Wisconsin gun store was used in 27 shootings in Chicago.

The bill has only been filed at the Statehouse. It would need to pass both chambers of the General Assembly and receive the governor's signature to become law.

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