Friday, August 19, 2005

Shooting Down Lawsuits

A few weeks ago, the U.S. Senate passed a bill which shields firearm manufacturers from lawsuits brought by shooting victims. ABC's Nightline covered this topic in depth last night. While I had heard about the bill's passing in late July, I didn't pay much attention to it at the time. Of course, that was right in the midst of the Rove-Plame brouhaha and the Roberts nomination to the Supreme Court. It kind of slipped under the radar a bit.

While I am loath to support much that comes out of the NRA, I think the basis for this legislation is reasonable. Why should gun manufacturers be held accountable for what happens with their legally-manufactured product once it leaves the factory? The fact is, guns are made to be shot. And handguns, in particular, are made to be shot at people. That's just reality. So, if a gun is stolen from a lawfully-entitled gun owner and used to murder someone, should the manufacturer of that handgun be held liable for damages? I don't see how any reasonable person can argue that it should be held liable under those circumstances.

That said, I am concerned that the legislation goes too far to shield firearm manufacturers from legitimate claims of negligence. An example of this would be a pallet of handguns that is improperly secured by the manufacturer and then stolen. Suppose a handgun from that stolen pallet is used to commit a murder. In this case, I think there's a legitimate case for charges of negligence on the part of the manufacturer if it can be proven that the manufacturer was at fault in the theft of the firearms. I think that's potentially a legitimate case of negligence.

Another example would be if a firearm kills someone due to faulty mechanical operation of the weapon - a product defect, if you will. In the event that a product defect is suspected to have inadvertently caused the death of someone, I think that should consititute legitimate grounds for legal action against the manufacturer.

In both of these examples, the rule of case law in front of a judge/jury should prevail. Let the legal system determine if the manufacturer is at fault. But where no reasonable fault or negligence can be uncovered - that is, a standard shooting with no unusual circumstances involved - then I do believe that firearm manufacturers should not be held liable for the actions of an individual operating the gun. In cases such as these, the individual should be held accountable, not the manufacturer.

I'm not quite sure how far-reaching this legislation is in terms of providing complete immunity to firearm manufacturers. I would hope that it doesn't preclude legitimate claims of negligence. That would be a travesty. It also could provide manufacturers with a false sense of security if they believe that quality assurance becomes less important without the possibility of legal recourse against defective products that kill or maim. Sometimes the mere threat of legal action can inspire production scrutiny that can minimize or prevent product defects. Putting firearms that jam during combat into U.S. troops' hands would be an enormous problem. Perhaps that's a risk the NRA and the U.S. Senate are willing to take. I think that's unfortunate.

2 Comments:

At 8:49 AM, Blogger bob said...

The legislation is probably overly broad, as you suggest. But keep in mind, the legislation was made in response to the anti-gun crowd's planned abuse of the legal system to further their goal of depriving everyone of a basic constitutional right.

It bugs me when stupid laws are enacted. It bugs me more when a small group of people that think that they are so much smarter than everyone else try to manipulate society at large. If they don't like the second amendment, there is a process to repeal it.

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger DrewL said...

While I don't necessarily have a problem with the right of individuals to own guns, I also am not opposed to legitimate and reasonable restrictions. For instance, I don't believe assault weapons need to be a part of that "right". I also don't think background checks and waiting periods are harmful to that "right".

If someone wants to purchase a gun, then he/she should be willing to go through reasonable scrutiny to do so. What is "reasonable"? Well, I suppose that is open to interpretation.

I'm certainly not in favor of the government's having the ability or the desire to impose its collective will on the free choice of individual citizens. But when it comes to public safety, clearly there are superceding factors that should allow the government some latitude here. Obviously, the results of 9/11/01 dictated that to a far greater degree than ever before. Personally, I think they went too far. I also think that conservatives and the NRA haven't been willing to go far enough on the gun issue. They've used the Second Amendment to push their agenda of virtually unfettered access to guns, which are a far greater threat to public safety - as well as the safety of law enforcement - than terrorism. I don't think that's the correct approach.

 

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