by Joseph P. Tartaro and Dave Workman
In a major defeat for gun control advocates, the California Supreme Court ruled in Merrill v. Navegar on Aug. 6 that firearms manufacturers cannot be held legally responsible for the criminal misuse of their products.
The court found that, based on California law, Navegarmanufacturer of the TEC-DC9 pistol, could not be sued over a 1993 attack in which a disgruntled businessman used two such pistols to kill nine people, including himself in a San Francisco office building.
With its 5-1 decision, Californias highest court joins a growing list of federal and state courts that have ruled against liability claims against firearms manufacturers whose products have been criminally misused.
The American Bar Association (ABA) immediately passed a resolution setting forth the groups official position opposing all laws prohibiting the type of lawsuit that was filed in California. The ABA also called for repeal of the California law, Civil Code section 1714.4, on which the decision was based.
Eight days after the courts decision, state Sen. Don Perata filed S-682, new legislation that would repeal that section of the civil code, and allow firearms manufacturers to be sued for any misuse of their products by third parties.
Some observers had noted that the state Supreme Court ruling could insulate gun manufacturers from another lawsuit filed by Los Angeles, San Francisco and 10 other California cities and counties, claiming faulty design, manufacture and distribution of firearms. The Perata legislation would not only breathe new life into all of those suits, but open the door to possibly hundreds of new similar actions.
While the ABA and other anti-gunners, including Dennis Henigan, director of the Brady Centers Legal Action Project, have been shrieking over the California ruling, reporters and headline writers have added a new spin to the gun control game of words.
Only the Wall Street Journal applauded the decision, noting that Californias highest court properly upheld state law.
However, the win did not deter reporters and headline writers from spinning the story, and playing a word game with readers.
The Seattle Times headline on Aug. 7 declared: Victims Cant Sue Weapons Makers.
Associated Press reporter David Kravets, in his story filed on Aug. 6, used the term weapons manufacturers in his lead paragraph.
Reporter Alex Roth with the San Diego Union-Tribune also noted, in his lead paragraph: The California Supreme Court ruled yesterday that gun manufacturers cant be sued when their weapons are used in criminal acts.
Harriet Chaing, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, led her story with a reference to assault weapons.
After the ruling, Joe Waldron, executive director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, told Gun Week that the lone dissenting opinion by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, might be considered a blue print for anti-gunners to re-write the states law.
In her dissent, Werdegar contended that the manufacturers of semi-auto firearms used in the shooting do owe the public, and hence those injured by the guns they supply, a duty of care in the conduct of their design, distribution and marketing activities. She asserted the TEC-DC9 was attractive to criminals.
Werdegar also complained that, gunmakers, including makers of assault weapons banned in California, will apparently enjoy absolute immunity from the consequences of their negligent marketing decisions.
The San Francisco Chronicle called the ruling a stinging defeat for gun control advocates.
Californias ruling overturned the only state appellate court ruling that had allowed victims to sue a gunmaker in the aftermath of a shooting. So far, every decision by a state high court or federal appeals court has gone in favor of manufacturers of legal, non-defective guns.
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