The ruling by State Appellate Court in Rochester authorizing a lawsuit against the gun industry is not only welcome, it was inevitable. The Second Amendment offers cover for the gun industry, but it’s not absolute, any more than freedom of speech or the press is.
The ruling was based on a shooting in Buffalo that severely injured Danny “Bud” Williams as he played basketball in front of his home.
Williams sought to sue the gun manufacturer, Beemiller, contending that it knew it was manufacturing guns tied to urban street crime. A state court threw the suit out, but this week, the Appellate Court reversed that decision. The case can proceed.
We don’t know if Beemiller is liable in this case, as Williams charges, but we do know that manufacturers cannot have carte blanche to flood the market with weapons meant to do harm, any more than any other industry can. There are limits.
This case is the first in which a court has ruled that a gun manufacturer or distributor may be held liable under the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act for supplying gun traffickers and facilitating a shooting, according to the Brady Center in Washington, D.C.
It’s a watershed moment, but one that had to come sooner or later. Illegal guns wreak havoc in American cities and there has to be a reckoning when reckless behavior causes grave injury.
It did to Williams. He was the victim of mistaken identity when he was shot in 2003. He was a star basketball player at McKinley High School with a promising future in college sports. But he was shot in the stomach and was never again able to play at the same level.
He was wounded with a gun that was among about 250 bought at gun shows in Ohio by gun trafficker James Michael Bostic, formerly of Buffalo. Bostic dumped many of the cheap handguns on Buffalo’s streets, and made money doing it. He was arrested and imprisoned, as was the man who shot Williams, Cornell Caldwell.
The question now is if liability creeps up to the manufacturer of this gun. It’s not a certainty, but the appellate court believes the issues are sufficient to warrant a trial.
It is important to Williams that he prevails, of course. But as a social matter, the important point is that these questions can be tried in a court of law. That’s an important development in a country that for too long has simultaneously paid a terrible price for gun violence while shielding the industry from responsibility.
It’s a start.