Back in April I wrote about the ongoing lawsuit against Bushmaster which looked to hold the company accountable for the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The judge in that case, Barbara Bellis, had heard a motion from the defendants to have the suit dismissed because it would have violated the protections given to gun manufacturers under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).
The judge refused the request on technical grounds, not for a lack of merit, but because the wrong sort of motion had been filed. As the NRA Institute for Legal Action happily reported, the interested parties were back in court yesterday with the proper documents and the judge has essentially ended the case against Bushmaster.
This afternoon, a judge issued a ruling in the case, Soto v. Bushmaster, that held the defendants were entitled to immunity from the suit.
The defendants in the case originally asked the court to dismiss the complaint under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which was enacted in 2005 to prohibit frivolous suits against firearm makers for criminal acts committed with their products by unaffiliated third parties.
In April, the court in the Soto case issued a highly technical ruling that found the defendants had filed the wrong type of motion to invoke the protections of the PLCAA. The court at that time expressed no opinion on the merits of either the complaint or the defenses.
The defendants renewed their claim of immunity under the PLCAA, this time by filing “motions to strike” the plaintiffs’ claims.
This time the response from the court wasn’t quite so bogged down in technical terminology and finally addressed the common sense questions which many of us were asking in April. The wording of the PLCAA is quite clear and understandably by those without legal degrees or a fluency in Latin. The judge went on to provide an equally simple explanation of why the plaintiffs are now essentially out of options.
Congress, through the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act … has broadly prohibited lawsuits “against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms … for the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful use of firearm products … by others when the produced functioned as designed and intended.” … The present case seeks damages for harms … that were caused solely by the criminal misuse of a weapon by [the perpetrator of the Newtown slayings]. Accordingly, this action falls squarely within the broad immunity provided by the PLCAA.
Hopefully this spells the end of this ill conceived attempt at using a tragedy to try to bring down the gun industry. I had my doubts about how Judge Bellis might handle this initially, but her ruling in this case wound up providing the clarity that was needed. The PLCAA is clear in both its wording and intent. When a properly functioning, legal firearm is used by a bad actor to commit crimes but was not knowingly sold to them by the manufacturer or a distributor, the manufacturer is not liable for those actions. In this case, the guns were legally sold to the shooter’s mother who followed all the rules. The shooter stole the weapons from her to commit his crimes. The chain of production, delivery and ownership was broken, so Bushmaster was not at fault.
If there’s anything remarkable about this ruling it’s only that it took so long to reach this point. The conclusion should have been obvious from the moment the case was first submitted. A more vindictive person might argue that the plaintiffs should be held liable for all the court costs incurred by Bushmaster, but given the emotional entanglements surrounding the case I somehow doubt that’s going to happen.