Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Twenty young children and six teachers, dead in minutes, each victim with multiple gunshot wounds. The shooter used a Remington Bushmaster, an assault rifle, accompanied by multiple high-capacity magazines. Each magazine could hold thirty rounds. It is inconceivable that such a weapon is good for any legitimate sporting use.
In the 1980s, lawyers pursued lawsuits on behalf of victims and/or their families who had been severely injured or killed by attackers. The weapons of choice – handguns. Those suits focused on the inherently dangerous nature of a firearm, based on the fact that the societal risks inherent in the weapons outweigh the societal benefits of them. Courts repeatedly held that a firearm with no defects that performed exactly as intended was not subject to a strict products liability lawsuit. None of those suits, however, focused on the inherently dangerous nature of assault rifles or high-capacity magazines.
Despite multiple mass killings across the nation in the recent years: Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson, the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin – the attack in Newtown has placed gun control in the limelight, creating both societal and political waves in a markedly more profound way than the other recent shootings. John Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research said it best, “To me and to others, this one feels different.” So different, that legislators are vowing to make changes.
With the apparent shift in threatened legislation for more stringent gun control standards, perhaps the success of products liability lawsuits against manufacturers of assault rifles and high-capacity clips may also shift. If the tone of the Newtown Connecticut tragedy can impact the legislative branch of government, then so too might it be able to impact the judicial branch. After all, what legitimate purpose is served by the creation, manufacturing, marketing, and sale of these inherently dangerous products?