Wednesday, April 23, 2003

A person attempts to unload a pistol. In the process they pull the trigger, the gun fires & a 7 year old is hit, causing injuries which render the child a quadriplegic. It would be fairly obvious that while accidental, the person who unloaded the gun in an unsafe manner was at fault for the child's injury. That person was clearly negligent & as such should shoulder 100% of any blame.
Not in Oakland.

"The jury found that Bryco Arms, the maker of the .38-caliber semiautomatic used in the shooting; Bruce Jennings, the gun's designer and the company's founder; and the company's main distributor, B. L. Jennings Inc. 35 percent liable for the injury to the boy, Brandon Maxfield, who was shot in the chin by a baby sitter in 1994. In addition, the jury found two other gun distributors that shipped the gun and the pawnshop in Willits, Calif., where it was bought 13 percent liable. The jury assessed the remaining responsibility to Larry Moreford, the 20-year-old baby sitter who accidentally pulled the trigger while trying to unload the gun, and to Brandon Maxfield's parents, who had bought it."

Huh? If you wonder how they arrived at that verdict, here's a partial explanation:

"In Brandon's case, Ms. [Victoria] Ni, [a staff lawyer with Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, a public interest law firm that had been advising Brandon] said, the crucial issue was that the .38-caliber Bryco semiautomatic was designed in such a way that it could be unloaded only when the safety was turned to the "off" position. 'You have to disengage the safety and put the gun in a dangerous position to unload it,' Ms. Ni said. 'That is a defect in the design."

Huh? I don't have the statistics available, but it's safe to say that at least half if not a significant majority of all firearms are designed in such a way that unloading them requires disengaging the safety. Revolvers do not require the safety be disengaged to load or unload, but that's primarily due to revolvers not having safety's at all.

But I am still puzzled by the partial fault found with the distributor, the retailer & the child's parents. Even if it were a legitimate design fault, then wouldn't the manufacturer alone bear the burden? I suppose it could be argued that they were all engaged in the traffic of a faulty product but the premise seems weak, especially when one takes into account that the pistol functioned as it was suppossed to: with the safety disengaged pulling the trigger will cause the pistol to discharge if a cartridge is in the chamber.

I feel sympathy for the child. A terrible thing happenned to him & he will suffer its consequences for the rest of his life. But the fault clearly lies with the person who shot him, even if it was accidental. Actually it was negligent. He violated at leats two of the primary rules of gun safety: never point a weapon at anything you are not intending to shoot & never put your finger on the trigger until you intend to shoot.

I wonder if a jury in Oakland would find Jack Daniel's liabel for someone's DUI? After all there is no device attached to the bottle that prevents you from turning it up & accidentally getting drunk.

This is clearly an attempt to legislate via civil trials. The target they chose was the maker of an inexpensive pistol. The article itself refers to them as "saturday night specials". This phrase is a derivative of "niggertown saturday night special", but most gun control advocates don't like to mention the racist heritage of one of their more common phrases. It is broadly inclusive of any handguns that are inexpensive. The usual argument is that cheaply made handguns are inherantly unsafe & are used frquently in crime. While there is an obvious benefit to criminals that can't afford higher priced arms in obtaining inexpensive handguns, the majority of guns used in crime are sold on the black market or are stolen, thus negating the argument that economically priced arms supply criminals. Economically priced guns do make it possible for people of low income to have arms. Coincidentally people with low incomes tend to live in areas with a higher risk of crime than those who can afford more expensive weapons, so the benefit to the poor is obvious: the poor may be in the most need of having arms for self defense & inexpensive arms make that possible.
But are they unsafe? Not in my experience. The cheapest ( both quality & price wise) arms I have ever been around have functioned as designed. When the safety was engaged they did not fire, when the safety was disengaged they did. Some with more accuracy & reliablity than others, but I don't thik the question of safety involves being jam-free. When loaded with the correct ammunition they didn't blow up & they didn't discharge unless a deliberate pressure was exerted upon the trigger with the safety disengaged.

I do wonder if any of this was brought up during the trial. I assume it was. I also wonder what the judges instructions were to the jury. Also I wonder what the reasoning was behind the judges decision to let this proceed to trial in the first place.

Whatever the answers are to the above questions one thing is clear: this is a blow to all gun owners or would be gun owners, especially the ones in the lower income brackets.

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