Superior Court judge has denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit accusing gun makers and sellers of liability in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, saying the broad immunity granted to the firearms industry does not strip the court of jurisdiction to hear the claim.
While the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act generally insulates gun companies from liability, Judge Barbara Bellis said the law could be used to attack the legal sufficiency of the plaintiffs’ claims, but not to have the case thrown out at this early stage.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs – nine victims’ families and an administrator who was shot and survived – declared the ruling a major win, as victories against firearms companies are extremely rare. But the ruling does not preclude the defendants from reasserting their claims of immunity under federal law in a future motion.
The lawsuit accuses the Remington Arms Co. and other defendants of negligently selling to civilians a weapon the plaintiffs claim is suitable only for the military and law enforcement. At a hearing in February, Bridgeport lawyer Josh Koskoff argued against dismissing the case, saying the lawsuit’s claim of “negligent entrustment” is an exception to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
But Bellis ruled on a narrower issue, agreeing with the plaintiffs that she has jurisdiction to continue with the case, but not ruling on whether the federal law blocks the plaintiffs from pursuing their claim.
“At this juncture,” Bellis wrote, “the court need not and will not consider the merits of the plaintiffs’ negligent entrustment theory.”
Well, there may be a little more to what the judge concluded than that. According to the AP, she concluded that the law “does not prevent lawyers for the families of Sandy Hook victims from arguing that the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle is a military weapon and should not have been sold to civilians.” Selling an AR-15 to civilians is their equivalent of “negligent entrustment.” The judge found that the lawyers may indeed argue that, and that she shouldn’t rule at the present on the appropriateness of said argument. But since this is all covered by a law, let’s see what the law says.
(5) Businesses in the United States that are engaged in interstate and foreign commerce through the lawful design, manufacture, marketing, distribution, importation, or sale to the public of firearms or ammunition products that have been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce are not, and should not, be liable for the harm caused by those who criminally or unlawfully misuse firearm products or ammunition products that function as designed and intended.
(6) The possibility of imposing liability on an entire industry for harm that is solely caused by others is an abuse of the legal system, erodes public confidence in our Nation’s laws, threatens the diminution of a basic constitutional right and civil liberty, invites the disassembly and destabilization of other industries and economic sectors lawfully competing in the free enterprise system of the United States, and constitutes an unreasonable burden on interstate and foreign commerce of the United States.
(7) The liability actions commenced or contemplated by the Federal Government, States, municipalities, and private interest groups and others are based on theories without foundation in hundreds of years of the common law and jurisprudence of the United States and do not represent a bona fide expansion of the common law. The possible sustaining of these actions by a maverick judicial officer or petit jury would expand civil liability in a manner never contemplated by the framers of the Constitution, by Congress, or by the legislatures of the several States. Such an expansion of liability would constitute a deprivation of the rights, privileges, and immunities guaranteed to a citizen of the United States under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
(8) The liability actions commenced or contemplated by the Federal Government, States, municipalities, private interest groups and others attempt to use the judicial branch to circumvent the Legislative branch of government to regulate interstate and foreign commerce through judgments and judicial decrees thereby threatening the Separation of Powers doctrine and weakening and undermining important principles of federalism, State sovereignty and comity between the sister States.
It’s difficult to imagine a clearer statement than that. The Congress intended for all judicial actions against firearms manufacturers to fail, excepting what they called “negligent entrustment.” Further into the law, one reads just what that means, and it is obviously intended only to apply to known cases of sales to criminals who intended to perpetrate crimes with those weapons, instances where the seller knew or should have known the intent (presumably because he heard it directly from the buyer).
It doesn’t include all sales of certain categories of firearms to certain categories of the population, such as AR-15s sold to civilians. Additionally, the notion that because one wants to purchase an AR-15 means that he wants to perpetrate some sort of crime is prima facie absurd. We’ve discussed the fact that there is virtually no distinction between civilian and military firearms. AR-15s are currently ubiquitous in America, and rarely are they used to perpetrate crimes. Pistols on the battlefield and in the homes of America look the same because they are the same, unless one wants to point out that most of the time civilians own better weapons.
The U.S. Marine Corps took Benelli shotguns into Now Zad for house clearing, and the same Marine Corps took Remington 700s and Winchester bolt action guns into Iraq as designated marksman and sniper rifles. Excluding fully automatic crew served weapons (along with the fact that M4s are selective fire), the only firearms I can find still in considerable use among the civilian population that isn’t in use in the military is the revolver, which is a shame given the beautiful wheel guns being made at the Smith & Wesson performance center.
The case is absurd, and the judge should certainly have dismissed it with prejudice. And take note of one of the very reasons stated by the Congress for protection of firearms manufacturers, i.e., maverick judicial officer[s]. Judge Barbara Bellis is a maverick judicial officer (which I take to include both prosecutors and judges). She is allowing her political views to cloud her judgment.
Uncle thinks this argument is a losing argument. I guess I have to disagree. In a dysfunctional judicial system, anything can happen. It should be a losing argument. David French thinks we should watch this one carefully. I agree. Right along with impeaching the judge (or if you wish, tar and feathers is a good approach too).