Recently, a Connecticut judge dismissed the lawsuit brought by the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre against the gun manufacturer of the weapon used for the killings. Pursuant to a 2005 act signed into law by George W. Bush, the Protection of Lawful Commerce of Arms Act (PLCAA), the case was dismissed as the judge ruled the gun manufacturer could not be held liable.
Under the PLCAA, a gun manufacturer or dealer cannot be held liable for how a gun is used if the gun was sold legally. The families of the victims based their lawsuit on a theory of negligent entrustment, which is one of the few exceptions to the PLCAA.
Gun Manufacturers and Dealers Are Immune
The PLCAA protects gun manufacturers and dealers from liability for how their guns are used so long as the sale of the weapon was lawful. In the Sandy Hook case, the shooter did not purchase the weapon, but rather obtained it from his mother, whom he killed. As such, making the argument that the dealer was negligent by entrusting the weapon to the killer just does not work as neither dealer, nor manufacturer, had any interaction with the actual killer. The judge in the matter also explained that the 2005 PLCAA intended to give gun dealers and manufacturers broad immunity.
A Never-Ending Battle
The attorney for the families has pledged to file an appeal and continue fighting. While the fight may seem futile, especially given the PLCAA broad protections for gun dealers and manufacturers, the attorneys and victims’ families believe very strongly that the gun manufacturer should be held liable. As part of their negligent entrustment theory, they claimed that the manufacturer and dealer were negligent by entrusting anyone with the weapon as it is designed to kill people. The manufacturer denies that claim, and convinced a court that the PLCAA prevents them from being liable at all.
As a counterpoint, gun groups view this lawsuit very differently. They point out that the AR-15 rifle, which was the one used in Sandy Hook, is one of the most common rifles sold in America, and that it is not an automatic assault rifle, despite the aggressive, militarized look. Additionally, pro-gun groups argue that the PLCAA protections are reasonable, and that the person who pulls the trigger, not the company that makes the trigger, should be liable.
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