The Sandy Hook lawsuit

Anyone with basic human decency can understand the pain felt by the people who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook shooting.  Expressions of empathy sound hollow, since we recognize that no words will restore to life the twenty-seven human beings murdered in that outrage.  This may seem like a call to action, but not every action is justified.

One example of a bad response is the lawsuit filed by nine families of the Sandy Hook victims against Bushmaster, along with the distributor and seller of the AR-15 used.  One of the plaintiffs, Nicole Hockley, recently wrote an editorial in USA Today, titled, “Sandy Hook parent: Hold Remington accountable,” to explain her opposition to the sale of what she refers to as “military killing machines” to the general public.  In her opinion, “there are many kinds of guns but few, if any, enable as much carnage.”  She concludes,

This case is not about all gun makers; it’s about the AR-15. Remington’s targeted marketing makes military-style massacres accessible to unscreened civilians. The company’s strategy is responsible for the Sandy Hook massacre. The families have a right, even a responsibility, to hold it accountable.

This contains a number of errors, both in facts and in concept.  As I’ve discussed before, “military-style” is a vacuous phrase.  Name any firearm, and you can find some example of that very gun or a gun functionally identical to it that has been used by some soldier in some battle, from muzzle-loaders on.  And as the editorial board of USA Today reminds us, the Virginia Tech shooter used two handguns, one with a ten-round and one with a fifteen-round magazine, demonstrating that it’s not the tool, but the user.  The plaintiffs in this lawsuit may be excused if they do not wish to learn about firearms from people who own and shoot them, but their attorneys do have a responsibility to get the facts correct.

But the bigger errors in Hockley’s argument are the claims that the marketing of the AR-15 is to blame and that what the plaintiffs are doing in any way addresses the horror that was committed.  The details of the shooting in Newtown are clear—we know who bought the rifle, the shooter’s mother—and we know that background checks can’t predict whose son will kill her in the future.  But what the plaintiffs are pushing here is the idea that no American citizen not connected with the military or the police should be allowed to own an AR-15.  In their view, because a few among us will do bad things, all of us must be denied this particular exercise of gun rights.

Where does that end?  We in the gun community are reasonably suspicious that the ultimate goal for gun control advocates is the banning of all guns.  That may not be the case, but when lawsuits are filed on shoddy reasoning, it’s hard not to draw that conclusion.  When a plaintiff says that a manufacturer, selling a legal product in a legal manner, ought to be punished, I can comprehend the emotions she feels over the loss of her child, but at the same time, I have to take an objective point of view and say that the many American gun owners who have not murdered anyone and the companies who obey the law are not the problem and don’t deserve this lashing out.

The editorial board of USA Today state upfront that the lawsuit will fail on several legal grounds.  They go on to argue that it’s the duty of Congress and state legislatures to ban the AR-15 and other guns that they believe are “assault rifles.”  Their legal point is correct, but their desire to curtail the exercise of gun rights is no better than the demands of the plaintiffs.

As I said from the beginning, I recognize the pain experienced by people who lose a loved one to a heinous act.  But in the same way that juries have to be comprised of people who have no connection to the case and justices have to recuse themselves if they’re tied to either party, when public policy is made, we have to take a dispassionate view and consider what solutions will achieve good without harming people who have done no wrong.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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