Finley: Lawsuit by Newtown families could end gun sales

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Perhaps the biggest threat ever to the Second Amendment is working its way through the state courts in Connecticut.

A judge there is allowing a wrongful death lawsuit to proceed against Remington Arms Co., which made one of the weapons used by Adam Lanza to kill 26 children and staffers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

The lawsuit, filed by nine victim families, claims Remington is liable for making and selling to the public a rifle unfit for civilian use.

The claim plays right into the anti-gun lobby’s latest end-around of the Constitution. It follows the strategy laid out in last week’s Democratic debate by Hillary Clinton, who wants to open up both gun manufacturers and gun retailers to product liability lawsuits.

While Clinton chortles derisively whenever it’s pointed out that the threat of such litigation would become an effective ban on gun sales, and ultimately on gun ownership, that is precisely the desired outcome.

Clinton’s charge that gunmakers enjoy unique protection from liability isn’t true. All manufacturers of defect-free, legal goods enjoy a broad shield against damage resulting from the intentional misuse of their products.

Still, gun opponents compare firearm manufacturers with automakers, who are routinely sued when their cars and trucks are involved in a fatal accident. But those suits center around product malfunctions or design flaws. If someone gets drunk and plows an automobile into a group of children at a bus stop, the automaker is only liable if something was defective on the vehicle that contributed to the carnage.

The weapons used by Lanza were not defective. The were misused. Neither the manufacturer nor the retailer, who is also being sued, sold them to Lanza. The emotionally troubled teen took them without permission from his mother’s home. A negligence case could be made against the mother. She should not have allowed her deranged son access to her extensive arsenal; I’m all for holding gun owners responsible for properly securing their firearms.

Unfortunately, his mother was Lanza’s first victim.

Judge Barbara Bellis permitted the suit against Remington to proceed based on her gross misunderstanding of firearms.

She agreed with the plaintiff’s attorneys depiction of the Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle as a military weapon not intended for civilian use.

That’s just wrong. The difference between the Bushmaster and a common hunting rifle is cosmetic. It looks more lethal, but it operates the same way, firing one bullet with each pull of the trigger. It’s not a machine gun; it doesn’t fire rounds in bursts.

If the military were to arm its soldiers with Bushmasters, it would lose every battle.

Lanza used legal weapons that were sold within the strict confines of Connecticut’s gun laws, but taken without the owner’s permission.

If that becomes the flimsy standard for manufacturer and retailer liability, as both this lawsuit and Hillary Clinton hope, it will be the end of gunmaking and sales in this country. And that’s just what backers of this strategy want.

Nolan Finley’s “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice,” is available from Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.