Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PLCAA and Gun Saftey

The purpose of the PLCAA is to prevent firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable for crimes committed with their products. In a recent Illinois Supreme Court case Adames v. Sheahan the court found, among other things, that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), prevented the Beretta Corporation from being held liable for the wrongful death of a young boy.

In an unfortunate circumstance Billy Swan a 13 year old boy accidentally shot his friend, Josh Adames. Billy first discovered three guns in his parent’s bedroom. They were in a lock box (which the court determined to be unlocked). Billy’s father owned them, as he worked for the Cook County Sheriff’s office as a correctional officer.

[Billy Swan’s Testimony]
“Billy picked up each gun and examined it. Billy said that the magazine or clip was in the Beretta. When Billy picked up the Beretta, he pushed a button that released the magazine. Billy could see the bullets in the magazine. Billy then put the magazine back in the Beretta. Billy moved the slide at the top of the gun and a bullet popped out. Billy again removed the magazine and put the bullet back in the magazine. Billy repeatedly removed and replaced the bullets and magazine from the gun. Billy knew that the Beretta was loaded when the magazine was in the gun, but thought it was unloaded when the magazine was taken out. He thought that the bullet came out of the top of the magazine when the handgun was fired, and did not know that a bullet remained in the chamber.”

After playing with the guns for several minutes, Billy saw his friend, Michael, and invited him inside. Billy showed him the guns. Minutes later another friend Josh came over and was also invited in. Billy released the magazine and put it in his pocket. He then pointed the gun at Josh and pretended to fire, he pulled the trigger, and the boys ears began to ring.

I’ve been thinking about this case recently, trying to figure out whether a firearm manufacturer has a duty to protect the users of its product? It is definitely not an easy task. On one end of the spectrum I ask myself, why should a manufacturer of a firearm have a duty to protect someone whose actions they have no control over, yet on the other end of the spectrum shouldn't stricter safety precautions be required to maintain this limited liability by a firearm manufacturer? Personally I’m leaning towards the latter.

A magazine disconnect is an internal mechanism that engages a mechanical safety such as a block or trigger disconnect when the firearm's magazine is removed. Arguably a simple and inexpensive mechanism would have prevented the Beretta 92FS in Billy’s hand from being fired.

The PLCAA, became law as of October 26th, 2005. Ironically as of January 1st, 2006 California deemed handguns without a chamber load indicator or a magazine disconnect mechanism to be unsafe, and as a result new handgun designs without either of the two safety features are now against the law.

Although the Beretta 92FS Billy held did have a chamber load indicator, it was arguably "not sufficient to warn a user that the chamber had a bullet in it because the user could hardly see the indicator." [Expert Testimony]

Should more states follow a stricter requirement for firearm manufactures? I feel if you’re giving gun manufacturing companies less liability, then yes stricter standards need apply.

Opinions welcome...

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