County Supervisors advance study on ways to sue gun manufacturers
In the wake of recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, Buffalo and elsewhere, San Diego County supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to seek out policy recommendations that would enable the county to sue gun manufacturers for deaths caused by firearms.
Supervisors Nathan Fletcher, Terra Lawson-Remer and Nora Vargas voted in favor, while their colleagues Joel Anderson and Jim Desmond were opposed.
Fletcher and Lawson-Remer made the proposal, under which Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer will develop recommendations -- after consulting with the county sheriff and other relevant departments -- for cooperating with other law enforcement agencies to receive weapon seizure reports.
Robbins-Meyer will later return to the board with options for legal actions against gun manufacturers.
Desmond said that while he's in favor of stemming the tide of gun violence, it's better to focus on mental health issues, which he called the root cause of mass shootings. He advocated for more enforcement of existing laws, and said he favors harsher penalties for illegal gun use.
Anderson said he wouldn't support the proposal, but also wanted to make sure that evidence collected by the county is useful, including detailed reports on weapon seizures.
During a 40-minute public comment period, those in favor of the proposal stressed accountability for gun manufacturers, while opponents said guns themselves are not the problem.
Therese Hymer of San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention said the board "can make a meaningful difference" with this policy, along with gun storage laws and full access to reports on recovered firearms.
Citing fears over increased gun violence, Hymer also asked how many residents were aware that a teenage boy was accused of fatally shooting another 15-year-old boy last weekend in Lemon Grove.
North County resident Mike Borrello said the proposal was "ludicrous," and compared it to the county suing Ford Motor Co. for a driver running down a crowd of people. He also said gun shop owners who strictly follow regulations have no control over how a gun owner behaves.
Fletcher and Lawson-Remer announced the proposal Monday during a news conference outside the County Administration Building.
"We want to use this policy to put pressure on manufacturers to be responsible corporate citizens," Fletcher said. "They shouldn't be allowed to rake in money and then sit idly by as people using their product perform mass shootings."
Lawson-Remer said gun manufacturing "is a multi-billion (dollar) business that profits off deadly products, and these corporations cannot get away with deliberately evading the law, marketing to kids and other reckless and illegal actions."
She added: "It's time to take our fight for common-sense gun safety from the statehouse to the courthouse, and hold firearm manufacturers accountable in a court of law for their role in deadly shootings."
According to a statement, the supervisors "do not have a specific lawsuit they are wishing the county join at this time."
According to statistics provided by Fletcher and Lawson-Remer:
- among 12 high-income nations, including Australia and France, over 80% of firearm deaths occur in the United States;
- over 90% of children killed by firearms in that group were from the United States;
- each year, roughly 45,222 people in the United States die as a result of gun violence;
- tens of thousands more suffer non-fatal gun injuries, and
- firearms are the leading cause of death among children and teens.
"Just as San Diego County has joined other cities and counties in California to hold opioid painkiller manufacturers and distributors accountable for deceptive marketing and for creating an epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction that killed thousands in San Diego alone, the county should hold gun manufacturers accountable for their role in the public health epidemic of gun violence," according to a Board of Supervisors letter.
Instead of mass shootings, "kids ought to go to school and worry about the things kids (should) worry about," Fletcher said.
Two high school students and gun violence prevention advocates were also at the Monday news conference.
Lucy Yang, an 11th-grader at Canyon Crest Academy, said too many of her peers spend years worrying about gun violence in their school, which creates anxiety.
Wearing a T-shirt with the words "Team Enough" on it, Yang asked, "Isn't school supposed to be an institution of education and safety?"
Yang added that gun industry profits have taken precedence over protecting children's lives.
Tahlia Fisch, a 10th-grader at The Grauer School, said she has experienced school lockdowns due to threats. She added that when entering a classroom, rather than thinking about that day's lesson, she's more concerned with where to hide in case a shooting happens.
"I ask myself this question in restaurants, malls and grocery stores," Fisch said. "I don't want guns in my school, I don't want guns in my home. Changes can be made."
Michael Schwartz, executive director of San Diego County Gun Owners PAC, said in an emailed statement Tuesday that the county policy "will never pass in the courts and it's little more than a publicity opportunity for extremists Fletcher and Lawson-Remer."
"We ask that they stop distracting and blocking real policies that will help, such as school security and fixing mental health programs," Schwartz added.
In January, supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of an ordinance to require safe firearm storage and prohibit the distribution or creation of "ghost guns," which lack serial numbers.