Should Gun and Ammo Manufacturers Really Be Sued for Murders?

An article headline reads, “We Lost Our Daughter to a Mass Shooter and Now Owe $203,000 to His Ammo Dealer.”

From the article:

We have been getting a lot of questions about our lawsuit against Lucky Gunner, the online company that sold ammunition to the man who murdered our daughter Jessica along with 11 others in an Aurora, Colorado, theater. Especially after the Rachel Maddow Show covered us twice, people ask us about the judge’s order that we pay Lucky Gunner’s attorneys’ fees, since our lawsuit was unsuccessful.

We brought our lawsuit because we thought it was outrageous that companies could sell a dangerous man an arsenal without getting any information about him, and without making any effort to see if he was a dangerous killer — which he was. When the killer had left a voicemail with a shooting range, the range operator knew that he was bad news and shouldn’t be given access to guns. But these companies set up their business so people just like this killer can arm themselves at the click of a mouse. We wanted to change that. And we still do.

Attorneys at Arnold and Porter and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence brought the lawsuit for us, pro bono. We knew the risks of bringing the case. We knew that Colorado and Congress have given special protection of the gun industry, and we knew that under Colorado law we could even be ordered to pay attorneys’ fees because of those special protections.

But we thought it was important to take a stand, to fight to prevent other families from suffering as we have. We did not seek any money in our case. We just wanted injunctive relief — to have these companies act reasonably when they sold dangerous materiel, like 100-round ammunition magazines, ammunition, body armor, and tear gas.

The judge dismissed our case because, he said, these online sellers had special immunity from the general duty to use reasonable care under the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and a Colorado immunity law. If you couple the PLCAA law with Colorado’s law HB 000-208, (which says in essence: If you bring a civil case against a gun or ammunition seller and the case is dismissed then the plaintiff must pay all the defendant’s costs), you have an impenetrable barrier to using the judicial system to effect change in gun legislation in Colorado.

Everyone else in society has a duty to use reasonable care to not injure others — except gun and ammunition sellers.

To make matters worse, the judge ordered that we pay $203,000 …


Exactly how is it the responsibility of gun and ammunition manufacturers to ensure that nobody kills with their products?

This whole argument is an appeal to emotion, and emotion alone. Emotions are fallible. That’s why we need reason, facts and logic. Reason, facts and logic help us determine what’s actually true.

Emotions tell us what’s important to us. And well they should. Losing your daughter to a killer is an unimaginably horrible thing. You should be emotional about it; something is wrong, somewhere, if you’re not.

But emotions cannot tell you what’s right, true or just. This grieving mother’s emotions are directed towards the people who made the guns and ammunition that killed her daughter. It would be like directing her emotions of pain and anger at the manufacturer of baseball bats or butcher knives, had her daughter just as tragically been murdered with one of these items.

The victim’s loved ones’ emotions should, instead, be directed at the killer himself. As well as the ideas, laws, traditions and policies which made that killer’s actions possible. Those are matters for investigation and research, to be sure. But emotions should not be the determining factor in guilt.

It’s just like any other prejudice. Consider a prejudice against black people. If you believed that all black people are dangerous killers, and then your daughter happens to be killed by a black person, you might be tempted (emotionally) to conclude: “You see? All black people are violent predators. Look at my daughter.” But the tragic fact of the daughter’s murder only serves to reinforce the original prejudice. The tragic fact cannot make the error contained in the prejudice valid.

You cannot use a tragic, emotionally-charged fact to reinforce a prejudice or judgment unsupported by facts. It’s the same when the irrational prejudice is against guns. I notice a lot of people are prejudiced against guns. They say or feel, “Guns are used for only one purpose—to kill people. I cannot understand why anyone would want to own a gun.” But not all people who own guns are killers. They like to collect them. They like to hunt. Or yes, they want to have the gun in case it’s needed for self-defense.

The point is: They do not plan, wish or intend to use a gun to initiate force against another. Reason tells us that. Facts and logic tell us that. These things are facts just as much as the death of the girl is a fact. There’s no logical or factual connection whatsoever between the fact of the girl’s murder, and the fact that some other irrelevant person owns a gun to hunt, collect or self-protect. Only feelings can bring the two together, not reason.

Why should a gun manufacturer, who makes guns for people with no illegal or illegitimate purpose for owning one, be held financially liable for what a murderer unlawfully does with one of those guns? What if this woman’s poor daughter was hit over the head and killed with a baseball bat, instead of a gun? Or a knife used for culinary purposes? Should the owner of companies who manufacture these items be sued, as well?

That’s different, we’re told. Why is it different? “Because baseball bats and kitchen knives are intended for different purposes.” But what about all the people who own guns for self-protection? Or for hunting, collecting, or any reasons which are nobody’s business? Why do those purposes not matter? And why should the people who make the guns so millions of people—not to mention police and soldiers—can protect the innocent be made to pay when someone uses a gun for a purpose which is not right, not legal and for which it was never intended?

And what about other problems of liability raised by such suits? Are alcohol manufacturers to be responsible for the death and destruction of a fatal car accident brought on by intoxication? Should restaurants be legally sued for people’s obesity and heart attacks? On the premises of the grieving mother’s lawsuit against ammunition manufacturers, they should be. And I have little doubt that a lot of people in our increasingly irrational society think the same should apply to other manufacturers, as well.

Reason asks and answers these questions logically, consistently and fairly. But emotions will not. The moment we start to run our system of justice by emotion, we’re all in for the kind of mayhem and disorder which sadly afflicted this grieving mother’s life.

Grief is no excuse for being wrong. And just because you feel badly for someone’s loss does not mean you should be afraid to challenge them for being totally and profoundly wrong. I’m sad this mother lost her daughter to a murderer; but I’m very happy she lost her lawsuit. And, yes, she should pay the legal fees. She knew the risks going in, as she openly admits. People should think twice before abusing the court system in this way.

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