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Wednesday, April 23, 2003  

Gun manufacturer shot down in court

But Right has more ammo

Gun makers have lost a case in which a child was paralyzed by gunfire.

An Oakland jury has found a California gun maker, its designer and its main distributor partly liable in an accidental shooting that left a 7-year-old boy a quadriplegic.

. . .The jury found that Bryco Arms, the maker of the .38-caliber semiautomatic used in the shooting; Bruce Jennings, the gun's designer and the company's founder; and the company's main distributor, B. L. Jennings Inc. 35 percent liable for the injury to the boy, Brandon Maxfield, who was shot in the chin by a baby sitter in 1994.

Gun makers are rarely found liable for shootings because they argue that any negligence was on the part of the persons involved and the weapon worked as intended. The opposing argument is that guns serve only one inherently dangerous function, therefore there is a duty to make them as accident proof as possible.

The facts of this case suggest a redesign of the gun that made it more dangerous. Brandon's attorney described the problem.

"You have to disengage the safety and put the gun in a dangerous position to unload it," Ms. [Victoria] Ni said. "That is a defect in the design."

During testimony, it was shown that Mr. [B. L.] Jennings had changed the design of the gun to make it operate that way.

The verdict could be Pyrrhic victory. A bill currently before the Senate would prevent gun manufacturers from being held liable for injuries resulting from the use of their products.

The bill, which passed the House earlier this month, is expected to be taken up in the Senate after the Easter recess. The bill, sponsored by the National Rifle Association and the gun industry, has 52 co-sponsors in the Senate, enough to pass.

Gun control activists are heartened by the verdict, but emphasize the importance of opposing the immunity bill before Congress.

"The gun lobby says that suits against gun makers are frivolous. This case proves them wrong," said Josh Horwitz, Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the organization spearheading the Justice for Gun Victims campaign. "If gun industry immunity becomes the law of the land, there will be no legal recourse to hold the industry accountable for its irresponsible actions."

In his article, "Pistol Whipped: Baseless Lawsuits, Foolish Laws" Cato Institute resident Robert A. Levy asserts lawsuits such as this one are frivolous. In addition, he declares lawsuits brought by the states to be part of a conspiracy against gun-owners.

Levy says that "the American public, especially voters and jurors, must be warned that our tort system is rapidly becoming a tool for extortion by a coterie of politicians and trial lawyers."

He considers suits by victims of gun violence part of a two-pronged attack on the arguable right of private citizens to possess weaponry. According to him, "Meritless litigation brought by government plaintiffs in multiple jurisdictions are just part of a scheme to force gun makers to adopt policies that legislatures have wisely rejected."

Blogger Kim du Toit of The Daily Rant would probably agree. After noting two of Bryco's Saturday night specials are on the BATF's list of guns most likely to be used to commit crimes, he says inexpensive guns are a good thing.

Guns should be cheap, because then poor people (the most common victims of crime) can afford them.  Yes, it makes them more affordable to criminals as well, but most guns used in crime are stolen anyway, where price is not an issue.  There are more law-abiding poor people than there are criminals, and poor people have as much right to defend themselves as anyone else does.

I believe poor people have just as much right to be safe from gun violence as anyone else does.

One of the groups fighting for people like Brandon is Justice for Gun Victims. It can be accessed here.

Dangerous Metal gets it. The blogger says of this case and blanket immunity for gun manufacturers:

This is exactly why a blanket immunity is unwise. Manufacturing or design defects would no longer be actionable. Corporations are looking at their bottom line, not your safety. . .history has proven this time after time.

Write your Congressperson. I've written mine.

10:26 PM