By: Robert Davis
The family of a woman killed during Stephen Paddock’s mass shooting spree during the 2017 Route 91 Country Music Festival in Las Vegas has filed a wrongful death suit against eight gun manufacturers and three dealers, alleging that the companies marketed their weapons as easily interchangeable from semi-automatic to full-automatic.
The lawsuit is the latest in a string of cases seeking to overturn a federal law that shields gun manufacturers from liability in cases where their weapon is used to commit a crime.
“It is wrong to blame the manufacturers of legal, non-defective products lawfully sold for the actions of a madman,” Lawrence G. Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told the Associated Press. “Doing so would be like attempting to hold Ford responsible for a deranged criminal who affixes after-market parts to a Mustang and then misused that car to attack a group of pedestrians.”
Gun manufacturers are currently protected from liability under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, passed in 2005 during George W. Bush’s second term. The law does not, however, protect gun dealers and manufacturers who sell defective products, breach their contract with distributors, or promote criminal misconduct.
The wrongful death lawsuit, filed in the Eighth Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada, does not contend that any of the defendants committed acts that are not covered under current laws. Instead, the lawsuit alleges that AR-15s are marketed with an “integrated” bump stock.
“AR-15s were designed to shoot automatically because that’s what the military needed,” Josh Koskoff, the lawyer representing the family of slain 31-year-old Carrie Parsons, wrote on his website. “The capacity for automatic fire, which remains very much in the DNA of the ‘civilian’ AR-15s sold today, can be unlocked with the simplest of modifications. The result is the kind of large-scale devastation we saw in Las Vegas.”
Parsons was visiting Las Vegas from Seattle, Washington when she became one of 58 people killed during Paddock’s10-minute rampage. During that time, Paddock shot nearly 1,100 rounds into a crowd of 20,000, wounding 800.
The gun manufacturers named in the suit include Colt, Daniel Defense, Patriot Ordnance, FN, Noveske, Christensen, and Lewis Machine & Tool.
Courts looked favorably on PLCAA until the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Remington could be sued for marketing the AR-15 that was used during the Sandy Hook Massacre in 2012.
For a refresher on why this bump stock ban matters, read what GPM’s Ted Patterson wrote on the subject last year:
Is it true that bump stocks increase the rate of fire? Absolutely. But they do not transform a semi-automatic weapon into a fully-automatic weapon, as an ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms) agent noted recently:
“The classification of these devices depends on whether they mechanically alter the function of the firearm to fire fully automatic…Bump-fire stocks, while simulating automatic fire, do not actually alter the firearm to fire automatically, making them legal under current federal law.”
Most shooters don’t want anything to do with bump stocks for accuracy reasons. By using the recoil to increase the rate of fire, it becomes difficult to shoot on target.
It wasn’t until after the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017, however, that bump stocks really became popular for purchase. Gun owners, rightly concerned about government action to ban anything and everything after tragedies, bought bump stocks in record numbers simply because they wanted to buy them before they were banned.
A gun shop owner in Las Vegas recently told The Christian Science Monitor:
“All of the sudden we’re getting all these calls about these bump-fire stocks. It’s getting ridiculous – these people never even knew what a bump-fire stock was until they saw it on the news. It’s the new hype. All of the sudden, people are saying, ‘I got to get one of these before they’re not available anymore.’”
Almost every article you read on the subject of bump stocks references the Las Vegas concert shooting as the key case study on why bump stocks should be banned. The assailant in that massacre indeed had a number of guns in his arsenal with bump stocks. However, you can point to other shootings like the recent Parkland, Florida shooting where no bump stocks were used. Just because a certain gun was used for violence, or certain add-ons or modifications were made to a gun used, does not mean we should outright ban whatever weapons or accessories were used.
Banning bump stocks doesn’t affect most gun owners, and most of them don’t care about bump stocks, but the precedent such action sets, especially at the federal level, is significant. There is a bigger reason why bump stocks matter. Why do we need the federal government and state governments in the business of regulating, banning, and otherwise meddling with gun accessories? Isn’t it bad enough they are banning guns and magazines left and right?
That’s why many gun owners are determined to fight this – not so much for what banning bump stocks does, but for what it may lead to.
Knee-jerk reactions to violence are not new. People forget that some of the first major efforts to ban and restrict access to guns came after the Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1927, where Chicago gangsters got into a gunfight, and seven involved were killed by thugs using Thompson submachine guns. After this incident, the first iterations of background checks and huge taxes on automatic weapons were made law.
Fast-forward to 1986, when Congress banned automatic weapons altogether.
And yet, the worst shootings with the most carnage are happening today in an America without automatic weapons and with new gun restrictions going on the books in state after state.
Look no further than Baltimore (recently named “the nation’s most dangerous city”) and Chicago to see how gun control ends up “working.”
So, unfortunately, it looks like bump stocks will meet their fate across the country very quickly. Politicians will pat themselves on the back, and they will tell grieving parents that something was done. But in the end, more gun control will not stop the violence one bit, and it will not make people safer.
Robert Davis is a general assignment reporter for Gunpowder Magazine. You can contact him with tips or comments at RobertDavis0414 (at) gmail.com.