Gustafson Versus Springfield Armory

BY Herschel Smith
3 weeks, 6 days ago

News from Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court, in a strongly worded decision, ruled Monday that a lawsuit filed by the parents of a 13-year-old Mount Pleasant boy who was killed accidentally when his friend fired a gun at him can move forward.

It is the first appeals court in the country to find that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act is unconstitutional and could, ultimately, have sweeping ramifications on suits brought against gun manufacturers.

“It is a huge deal,” said Jonathan Lowy, chief counsel for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, who argued the case on behalf of Mark and Leah Gustafson.

The Gustafsons filed the complaint against Springfield Arms (sic) and Saloom Department Store in 2018, alleging negligence and strict liability for the manufacture and sale of a defective handgun.

J.R. was at a home in Westmoreland County on March 20, 2016, when his 14-year-old friend obtained the homeowner’s handgun and removed the clip. Believing the gun was unloaded, the friend, John Burnsworth III, pulled the trigger and shot J.R.

Burnsworth ultimately pleaded delinquent in juvenile court to involuntary manslaughter and served more than a year at a Cambria County reform school before his release.

In their lawsuit, the Gustafsons argued that the gun that killed their son had a design defect because it lacked a safety feature that would disable it from firing without a clip inserted.

However, the defendants filed preliminary objections and asserted immunity under the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Harry F. Smail threw the case out, agreeing with the defendants that the act prohibited the lawsuit.

The Gustafsons appealed, arguing that the act is unconstitutional.

In a 63-page opinion filed Monday in Superior Court, a three-judge panel of the court agreed that it is.

“[T]he Act is unconstitutional in its entirety,” Judge Deborah A. Kunselman wrote. “The only portions of the [act] that do not offend the Constitution are its findings and purposes … and a few definitions.”

Instead, she said, it was an act of “constitutional overreach” and a violation of the Tenth Amendment, which gives power, such as the tort reform intended by the act, to individual states.

According to the court, the act in question says that a “’qualified-civil-liability action may not be brought in any federal or state court” against members of the gun industry. Such a lawsuit ‘shall be immediately dismissed by the court in which the action was brought or is currently pending.’”

There are enumerated exceptions in the act, which did not apply in the Gustafson case.

Instead, the Superior Court chose to address the constitutionality of the act, which was passed in 2005 after intense lobbying in Congress by the gun industry. Kunselman noted in the opinion that guns kill approximately 30,000 people annually.

“The act immunizes the gun industry from every conceivable type of joint and comparable liability known to the common law,” the court wrote, even if a product is faulty and causes harm.

The act, the opinion continued, is unsustainable, because “it grants the gun industry immunity regardless of how far removed from interstate commerce the harm arises.”

The decision can be found here.  This paragraph struck me as presumptuous.

We find the logic of the Supreme Court of Alaska in Kim unpersuasive. That court erroneously believed that allowing claims for ordinary negligence (or any other cause of action based in negligence) would render the PLCAA’s exception for claims of negligence per se and negligent entrustment surplusage. That court and the trial court misunderstood the PLCAA’s goal, which is to protect only those members of the gun industry who obey state or federal statutes from common-law liability. As we will explain below, Congress passed the PLCAA to immunize what they considered to be law-abiding members of the industry — in Congress’s mind, those who follow federal and state statutes.

And this court happens to know better.  And that “better” includes protection only of “law-abiding” manufacturers.  The trick is to know that law, which in this case is decided by a court, i.e., that Springfield Armory designed an unsafe weapon.

So it’s left up to a court who has probably never used weapons to decide what’s safe and unsafe.  Springfield Armory didn’t violate a single law in the design of this weapon, and Smith & Wesson (in the design of their M&P) and Glock also manufacture pistols that will discharge without a magazine being inserted.

There was nothing at all defective about this handgun, and nothing defective about the design.  Don’t point guns at other people and pull the trigger.  This case is remarkably different than the case against Remington 700, in that Remington had repeatable test cases where a rifle falling over, even with the safety on, caused a round to discharge, or the simple act of closing the bolt caused a round to discharge.  Remington made a defective product.  Springfield Armory did not.

Perhaps some users want that feature.  It’s there for very good reason (e.g., tactical reloads where a previously unseen assailant is approaching and you need that round still left in the chamber before you get the reload accomplished).

Never mind training, never mind user desires for features, never mind the rules of gun safety, which if they had been followed would have prevented this event.  The court knows better, that court being completely ignorant of gun designs.

This is why the law was passed to begin with.  So their presumptuous attack on prior applications ends up hoisting them on their own petard.

But watch and see and heed this warning.  I suspect Bloomberg money was behind this lawsuit, but in any case, yet another manufacturer will have to defend itself in endless court appearances, demands for discovery, and on and on the circus goes.  Springfield Armory won’t be the last manufacturer to be hit with lawsuits like this one, and in the end, the controllers will demand a federal law for firearms design.

Court behavior most of the time would be amusing if it wasn’t so sad and farcical.


Comments

  1. On September 28, 2020 at 11:34 pm, Beans said:

    So… The gun worked. Correctly. Safety disengaged and the gun fired when the trigger was pulled.

    This is how so many previous cases before the PLCAA was passed went. Gun picked up. Gun worked correctly. People sued. Goes to court. Court finds out there was no malfunction. Thus… case lost.

    The PLCAA was only needed because activist judges came into power and were ruling from emotion, not from the Law.

    So now we are back to the dark days before PLCAA. Dammit.

    ON the other hand, looks like we may have a mostly-in-support-of-the-2A to make up for Roberts turning into a mega-RINO.

  2. On September 29, 2020 at 12:51 am, Dan said:

    A predictable ruling…eventually some court somewhere HAD to rule the PLCAA as invalid. It’s just one more method of attack by the black robed pirates on the Second Amendment. Sooner or later the PLCAA will end up in the SCOTUS….. sadly even with Trump picking justices for that court a favorable outcome for the Second Amendment is unlikely. The judiciary has for decades had a peculiar and rabid hate for the idea of self defense by citizens and for the possession of arms to facilitate that self defense.

  3. On September 29, 2020 at 5:22 am, Jimmy the Saint said:

    @Dan: “The judiciary has for decades had a peculiar and rabid hate for the idea of self defense by citizens and for the possession of arms to facilitate that self defense.”

    Nobles and royals have always been against the peasantry having access to the type of arms that enable peasants to kill nobles and royals.

  4. On September 29, 2020 at 6:42 am, George said:

    Why were not the Gustafsons charged with child abuse or child endangerment by allowing those barely teenagers access to the gun?
    Obviously the two youths had not had a firearms safety course or, obviously, had not been taught firearms safety at home.

  5. On September 29, 2020 at 8:56 am, Frank Clarke said:

    You can child-proof your guns or you can gun-proof your children. The former works, sometimes. The latter works all the time.

    While most parts of the Bill of Rights refer to actions by the fedgov, the 2nd is anomalous. It simply says “shall not be infringed” and doesn’t go into detail about “by whom”. Certainly, it must not be infringed by the fedgov, but maybe… probably… it must not be infringed by anybody. Since the Constitution is the supreme law of the land (it says so itself ;-) perhaps the power of the fedgov should be used to prevent infringement by lesser jurisdictions?

    That this was not used as a justification, that ‘interstate commerce’ was used instead, is the great failing in many of our Congresses: those jerks don’t understand the foundation for their existence.

  6. On September 29, 2020 at 9:00 am, DelMarVaDave said:

    Thank you, George!
    Not educated on Pennsylvania firearms law, but in Maryland, anyone under 16 must be supervised when handling firearms. If you have them in the home, they must be secured. This issue is between the Gustafsons and the Burnsworths. Burnsworths should face charges. Shame on the Gustafsons for not keeping a better eye on who their adolescent was around.

  7. On September 29, 2020 at 9:15 am, Ned2 said:

    “..removed the clip.”

    Why are reporters so ignorant of correct firearms nomenclature?

  8. On September 29, 2020 at 9:23 am, Ned said:

    Interesting. I don’t want a pistol that won’t fire without the mag in place.

    When we were kids we all knew where the guns were. We had all been through hunter safety classes as soon as we were able, and many of our fathers were veterans who believed in gun ownership and in keeping their families safe.

    We looked at guns and we handled guns. And no one was ever stupid enough to point any gun at another person. Much less point it a a person and press the trigger.

    This case is nothing more than a virtue signaling court mired in technical ignorance attempting to force social change through litigation. It’s been done thousands of times before.

    The parents must feel terrible. They must be riddled with guilt for failing to train their son.

  9. On September 29, 2020 at 9:57 am, Bob in NC said:

    To Herschel’s comment, – “Smith & Wesson (in the design of their M&P) and Glock also manufacture pistols that will discharge without a magazine being inserted.”

    I would add… so does Beretta -the oldest manufacturer of firearms in the world. It has been the accepted way guns work for a long time. So it’s clear this design is not the real issue

  10. On September 29, 2020 at 10:17 am, billrla said:

    Firearms safety education could have prevented all of this. So could a decent gun lock or secure storage container. Instead, we have courts deciding that people can sue manufacturers of products that work properly.

  11. On September 29, 2020 at 10:22 am, Gary Griffiths said:

    Some hick state appellate court overruling the US Supreme Court!??!

    Wow! Just…..Wow!

  12. On September 29, 2020 at 11:24 am, John said:

    The people of PA elected the scum politicians who appoint their scum judges.
    This is on them.

  13. On September 29, 2020 at 12:27 pm, blake said:

    As per usual, leftists continue to use the courts system, knowing it’s only a matter of time before they find a court that favors outcome over equal protection under the law.

  14. On September 29, 2020 at 2:41 pm, Sisu said:

    This is the first I am learning of the case and decision – are we to understand that this Judge believes that despite SCOTUS rulings the Tenth Amendment (“powers … reserved to the states … or to the people.”) supersedes the Commerce Clause (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 – “… regulate commerce … among the several States, …), the Second Amendment and 14th Amendment (“… No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; …”) ?

    Separately, I observe “a properly working firearm” should operate with a round present in the chamber whether or not a magazine is present – I would argue that this in the best interests of the user. And, it is the 14 year old who should be held culpable of depraved indifference for pointing a firearm at something “he did not intend to destroy”, as well his parent’s for not ensuring his education (i.e., moral, vocational and academic) adequately prepared him to not negligently cause harm to others. …

    A broader issue presented is the ridiculous notion that 14 years of age does not qualify one to be responsible for his actions; I would set the age of majority across the country for federal statutory purposes at 14 but certainly no greater than 16 years of age. If as a civilized society we want more responsible young people treat them as adults earlier.

  15. On September 29, 2020 at 2:47 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    @Sisu,

    “This is the first I am learning of the case and decision …”

    I work hard to bring you the best and most relevant info, stuff that nobody else has covered.

    Look for this to be covered in Ammoland or elsewhere in the coming days. You heard it here first.

  16. On September 29, 2020 at 5:26 pm, Fred said:

    Ok, I (finally) read the first several paragraphs. The department store can’t be liable prima facie. The incident as described is not a problem of the weapon. Why haven’t the boys parents been arrested and charged with negligent homicide?

    This is typical American bad parenting. They failed to train their child and blame the maker of a product for it’s misuse by their ignorant child. This is classic boomerism in a nutshell: blame anything else other themselves for the consequences surrounding the health and prosperity of the family. You failed as parents and wonder why millennials are stupid!!!

    On a side note; I have no idea how old or what generation any of the people involved are in but if the shoe fits…And it’s classic liberal mindset as well; reject reality, deflect, and project.

    What ever happened to personal responsibility and sucking it up like a man? Gustafson? Isn’t that German? Germans are stupid and we never should have let them into America in the first place.

  17. On September 30, 2020 at 3:00 am, Unknownsailor said:

    I would love to hear how a state court can rule a Federal law unconstitutional and have it stick.

  18. On September 30, 2020 at 9:19 am, TRX said:

    > law, which in this case is decided by a court, i.e., that Springfield Armory designed an unsafe weapon.

    This has been done in several other areas, long ago. The Chevrolet Corvair, the rear-engined Porsches, Ford Pinto, and early GM FWD vehicles were declared “unsafe designs” by courts, and the manufacturers fined. The earliest case I know of was for a stamping press (Bliss?) that was almost a hundred years old, which was found to “lack proper safety equipment”, even though no such equipment (handguards, interlocks) was in use by any manufacturer at the time the press was sold.

    You could sell a Pet Rock, just like the rocks a customer could pick up outside. And in 2075, some court could decide you were liable for someone being bashed in the head with that rock, because you sold it without a properly-certified protective cover to prevent some random person – not even a related to your original customer – from using it in an unsafe way.

    It sucks, but it’s long-established case law. Though the validity of “case law” is becoming questionable nowadays.

  19. On October 1, 2020 at 8:36 am, Sanders said:

    I thought the SCOTUS ruled on that law years ago, and found it was Constitutional.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Firearms,Guns and was published September 28th, 2020 by Herschel Smith.

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