December 14, 2015
A lawsuit was filed on Monday by the families of nine of the twenty-six people killed and a teacher that was injured in the shooting two years ago at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The families are suing Bushmaster, the manufacturer of the AR-15 rifle used in the attack along with the distributor and the retailer of the weapon purchased by Nancy Lanza, the mother of the shooter, Adam Lanza for unspecified damages.
I understand the desire by these families to take action that can prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. They have suffered an unimaginable loss and it is only natural that they would want to do everything they can to insure such a heinous event could never occur again.
The wrongful death lawsuit charges that the AR-15 rifle is designed strictly for military use and should not be available to the general public. The plaintiffs are making the assertion that Bushmaster and their distribution chain are “selling a product to the general population who are not trained to use it nor even understand the power of it”. I believe this action is misguided.
First, the case is built around the myths the anti-gun lobby has constructed about the AR platform. An AR doesn’t really require any more training to use than a conventional rifle. It has a trigger, a safety, a bolt, a magazine and sights just like every other semi-automatic rifle.
It looks more complicated because of its modularity that makes it configurable for the individual user and has led to it becoming the most popular sporting rifle in America. There are other rifles of conventional design that can fire as many rounds just as fast yet they might have stocks of wood and don’t look so “scary” and are therefore tougher to demonize.
With respect to the .223 round that the AR fires, yes, it is lethal. However, it is considered in the shooting world to be a varmint round suited for game like prairie dogs or coyotes. It has less than half the power of the rounds fired from your uncle’s deer rifle. That has made if very popular with female shooters since its recoil is so light as to be negligible.
The second issue I have is with the nature of this lawsuit. Suing a manufacturer of a product because an individual made the decision to commit a crime with said product is seriously misguided. The weapon did not malfunction due to faulty manufacturing or design and kill or injure someone. A deranged individual made the decision to use it to kill and maim others.
If a manufacturer can be held liable in this kind of situation, what would prevent the surviving families of the victims of the World Trade Center attack from suing Boeing for damages because their planes can be used as flying bombs? A kitchen knife manufacturer could be sued into oblivion when one of their knives is used to commit murder.
The greatest problem with this legal action however, is that it does nothing to alleviate the real cause of this evil. The AR did not cause this tragedy, a seriously disturbed young man did.
Adam Lanza was off the charts deranged. He was diagnosed at an early age with Asperger’s syndrome that made it very difficult for him to engage in normal social situations. Compounding his condition, he also suffered from what is called a sensory processing disorder. This caused neurological signals in his brain to become disorganized preventing them from being properly integrated and resulting in bizarre responses to routine stimuli.
Adam was simply not able to handle normal social situations and this caused him to withdraw into a world of darkness filled with violence and death. His mother, Nancy, dedicated her life to taking care of him and seeking effective care but was never able to find it.
By the time Adam had reached his late teens, Nancy felt that Adam was a lost cause and she rapidly lost touch with him. Adam was reduced to sitting in front of a computer isolated and alone playing military style video games for hours on end.
In this country today there is a dramatic shortage of medical professionals that can effectively treat patients suffering from the kinds of neurological and psychological disorders Adam exhibited. It is quite difficult today to find anything more than minimally adequate care. And this will get worse as states continue to slash budgets for community health services.
It’s unclear to me how this suit will proceed since in 2005, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was passed that protects gun makers from lawsuits over criminal use of their products. The families are trying to get around the law using something called a negligent entrustment exemption to the law. This could hold the seller liable for selling to a person who was unstable or suicidal.
Whatever the outcome of the litigation though, I hope that we will see attention brought to our crumbling mental health system and our anemic abilities to deal with severe mental cases like Lanza’s. If indeed some kind of a settlement is reached, I hope the proceeds go to bolstering mental health care availability and maybe, just maybe prevent another tragedy.