The United States Supreme Court has decided to let stand a lower court’s ruling that gun manufacture Glock is not liable for a white supremacist’s shooting spree:
In 1999, white supremacist Buford Furrow killed postal worker Joseph Ileto and wounded 5 others – including three children – at a Jewish Community Center in Grenada Hills, California. In order to carry out his racially motivated crime, Furrow broke numerous gun control laws (he was illegally in possession of 7 firearms). In exchange for a guilty plea, Furrow avoided the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In 2001, the shooting victims and Ileto’s wife filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers, marketers, importers, distributors, and sellers of the firearms related to Furrow’s shooting spree. They alleged that those defendants intentionally produced, marketed, distributed, and sold more firearms than the legitimate market demanded, in order to take advantage of re-sales to distributors that they know or should know will, in turn, sell to illegal buyers. They also alleged that Defendants’ “deliberate and reckless” marketing and distribution strategies created an undue risk that their firearms would be obtained by illegal purchasers for criminal purposes. In 2002, the district court dismissed the case for failure to state a claim under California law. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal in part, reasoning that there could be a valid nuisance claim against Glock and other companies whose merchandise was directly connected to the shooting. In response to this court case, and similar cases pending across the county, Congress enacted the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 7901-7903. This new law was intended to protect federally licensed manufacturers and sellers of firearms from most civil liability for injuries independently and intentionally inflicted by criminals who use their non-defective products. In May of 2009, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that PLCAA barred the lawsuit against Glock and its co-defendants, and dismissed the case. This week, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear an appeal on this case, bringing it to an end and reaffirming the immunity created by the PLCAA.
As a threshold matter, the PLCAA created immunity for gun manufacturers such as Glock, meaning that further reasoning on the issue is moot. However, for the sake completeness, I’ll provide my thoughts on the matter:
Simply put, I find it wrong to try and hold gun manufacturers liable for the intentional actions of criminals. Instead, these criminals are the people, and the only people, who should be held liable for their actions. We don’t blame a car manufacturer when a criminal mows down innocent pedestrians. We don’t blame an airplane manufacturers when terrorists use their aircraft to commit horrendous acts of mass murder. Nor should we blame gun manufacturers. In each situation, a manufacturer produces a tool that has legitimate purposes, such as driving to work, flying to Hawaii, and self defense.
Some people who concede the point that any tool can be misused by criminals will still assert that gun manufacturers should still be liable, arguing that “guns are designed to kill people.” First I’ll address the statement that “guns are designed to kill people,” by saying that it is entirely true for some guns. Many guns are designed for hunting, target practice, trap shooting, etc. Others guns, however, are indeed designed to kill people – in self defense should the need arise. As the Supreme Court stated in D.C. v. Heller, the Second Amendment protects the rights of law abiding American citizens to have a gun suitable for self defense. Given that right, it would be rather inconsistent to tell citizens that they can have a gun suitable for self defense, and then turn around to tell the manufacturers that they are liable for producing and distributing such guns.