The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School had a huge impact on the national discourse and, to some extent, the electoral battlefield, but there’s another fight dragging on as a result of it. Some of the families who lost loved ones during the attack by a deranged madman filed a lawsuit as a result. They weren’t going after the shooter’s estate or even that of his mother, but the parent company of the manufacturer who produced one of the guns used in the attack. Freedom Group, the owners of both Bushmaster and Remington Arms (among others) was their target, claiming that they knowingly sold a dangerous product which wound up being used against the children and teachers at the school. This week the company is pushing back, seeking the dismissal of the case on grounds that it is essentially baseless and conflicts with current law. (Yahoo News)
Lawyers for the company that made the rifle used to kill 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School are expected to ask a Connecticut judge to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit filed by families of some of the massacre victims.
Freedom Group, the Madison, North Carolina, parent company of AR-15 maker Bushmaster Firearms, is arguing that it is protected by a 2005 federal law that shields gun manufacturers from most lawsuits over criminal use of their products.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, who include the families of nine children and adults who died and a teacher who survived, say the lawsuit is permitted under an exception to the federal law that allows litigation against companies that know, or should know, that their weapons are likely to be used in a way that risks injury to others.
The law in question here is the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which we’ve covered a number of times in the past. It’s a piece of legislation which really never should have needed to be passed, but Congress was forced into a rare bit of productive action when relentless nuisance suits by anti-gun rights groups threatened to bankrupt smaller members of the industry. It essentially says that the manufacturer or retailer can’t be held liable for the production, distribution and sale of safely designed, properly functioning, wholly legal products simply because they are put to an illegal use by criminals or the insane. It’s no different than saying you can’t sue the manufacturer of a properly designed and operational toaster just because your angry girlfriend throws it in the bathtub with you.
There is an exception to the law, covering cases where someone knowingly sells a weapon to a person who demonstrably can not legally own one or who poses an obvious risk to society should the purchase be approved. That’s the hook that the plaintiffs are hanging their hats on, but it’s a specious claim. Paul Barrett at Bloomberg explained why their case should be doomed to failure back in December.
Lawyers suing in court, rather than backing a bill in a legislature, face extra hurdles. These obstacles became evident when an earlier generation of anti-gun activists filed suit against manufacturers of handguns beginning in the late 1990s. Those cases fizzled. Some judges questioned why firearm companies should be penalized for marketing perfectly legal products that function properly. If you want to ban an article of commerce—a gun, say—do it by means of legislation, not litigation, the judges said. Other judges were troubled that the handgun suits sought to obscure the immediate cause of firearm misuse: the person holding the weapon.
The bottom line here boils down to the singular truth about weapons which perpetually gets anti-gun rights groups grinding their teeth. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. If you do happen to find a gun killing someone then it was defective to a severe degree and the manufacturer can rightly be held liable for that single instance of damage. But simply claiming that the creator of the tool is responsible for what any given individual chooses to do with it is a legal calumny.
It’s easy to understand the sorrow and anger felt by the Sandy Hook families, just as it’s obvious how and why anti-Second Amendment groups would seek to use them as pawns to further their cause. None of that changes the facts on the ground, however. This was an ill considered venture to begin with and we’re in a lot of trouble as a nation if the courts manage to bend reality enough to allow them to prevail.