SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Over, 1,300 Illinoisans die from gun violence each year, according to research from Everytown for Gun Safety. A freshman state lawmaker hopes to address the rise in gun violence by allowing anyone to sue the dealers, importers, or manufacturers of guns used to injure or kill someone.
Rep. Margaret Croke is using the same legal logic Texas lawmakers had for the anti-abortion law. The Chicago Democrat says House Bill 4156 could give people the ability to sue anyone who puts guns into the wrong hands.
Anyone in Texas can currently sue someone for helping a person get an abortion.
“The civil suit is triggered by the abortion after six weeks,” Croke said. “In our case, the civil suit is triggered by the unlawful bodily injury from a gun.”
The proposed change would not cover situations where someone used a gun for self-defense or gang violence. Croke wants her bill to address illegal gun transfers that lead to more violence. She also stressed the state needs to do everything in its power to keep families safe.
“Sue the person, the straw dealer, who transferred the gun”
So, what would happen if a teenager shot and killed someone?
“How did they get that gun,” Croke asked. “Did they get it from someone who purchased it legally from a gun shop and then that person transferred it over? In this case, we would be able to sue the person, the straw dealer, who transferred the gun over to the 16-year-old.”
However, Republicans feel this is more of a political statement than a strong proposal to address gun violence.
“No matter what their response is, it’s a slippery slope to go down to start putting more and more prosecution, really, honestly, in private rights of action,” said Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield).
And Croke knows this is an uphill battle. A 2005 federal law gives gun manufacturers and dealers immunity from lawsuits in federal and state court.
“This is a certain situation where we would be challenging federal law. And I’m okay with that,” Croke said. “If you don’t challenge bad laws, they will never change.”
Damages for claimaints winning suit
Under this proposal, claimaints winning lawsuits could receive injunctive relief and damages of no less than $10,000 to each person injured or killed by a gun dealt by the liable party. Gun shop owners and manufacturers would also have to provide documentation that they believe the guns they sold wouldn’t be used for unlawful bodily injury.
“Having everything go through civil right of action just really is not the way to do it,” Butler said. “That’s why we have entities such as prosecutors, state’s attorneys, and justice departments to prosecute people and things like that.”
The Illinois State Rifle Association strongly opposes this bill. Executive Director Richard Pearson said you can’t hold people liable for things they have no control over.
“This is a horrible bill,” Pearson said. “They’ll try to move it. But this bill shouldn’t go anywhere.”
Gun violence continues to rise across the state
Croke just filed the proposal Tuesday, so it has a long way to go before anyone votes on the bill. Still, Croke wants to see action soon.
An armed robbery took place right outside her home on Monday night. Croke said she could’ve been out walking her baby or coming home from an event. But, she noted there are worse situations people have become victims from.
“In Chicago, we have three-year-olds dying at the hands of gangs,” Croke said. “The amount of children who have passed because of gun violence in the city of Chicago is just overwhelming. This change needs to come into play to save our children. It’s really all about our kids right now.”
Croke says law-abiding gun owners shouldn’t have a problem with the proposal. She says it won’t impact them unless they participate in criminal activity and gun violence.
Although, Butler finds that hard to believe.
Investing in gun violence prevention efforts
“She’s not the one that’s going to be carrying out this change if the bill is ever enacted,” Butler said. “It’s going to be private citizen who want to take it upon themselves or activists who might find a way to exploit this piece of legislation to go after a law-abiding gun owner. It could be a variety of unintended consequences from legislation like this.”
Even so, Butler agrees with Croke that the state has far too many situations with gun violence. He stressed prosecutors, investigative teams, and community violence prevention groups need more resources to address the issue. Butler also said people need to be more respectful of each other and take care of their families.
“The family unit across the United States has eroded over the years. It results in violence like this and it’s unfortunate,” Butler said. “It’s not just one thing that’s going to help us combat this. We’re going to need a lot of different angles to address gun violence. I just don’t think this is the right option.”
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