I'm a .25 caliber pistol—a so-called Saturday Night Special—made by defunct gun maker Raven Arms. Although I'm an inanimate object, I've been found legally culpable in the 2000 classroom shooting of a West Palm Beach, Florida school teacher.
More specifically, a jury has just found gun distributor Valor 5 percent guilty in the tragic murder, which occurred when a 16-year-old student stole an unloaded version of me and some bullets from a family friend and then killed his teacher. The local school board and the family friend—though not the actual shooter—shouldered the rest of the blame. In the first trial in which a gun company has in any way been held responsible for a murder, Valor is supposed to pay $1.2 million to the victim's widow. The school board is supposed to pay $10.8 million and the family friend $12 million.
The plaintiff's lawyer was Bob Montgomery, best known for representing Florida in its $11.3 billion victory over tobacco companies. The case charged that I was "unsafe, defective and lacked features that would have prevented a minor from using it." Valor's attorneys countered that I wasn't a piece of "junk" and that I had legitimate uses, including self-defense, which is how most guns get used.
All the defendants are appealing the verdict which, given the way municipal cases against gun makers have fared, is likely to be overturned. As the legal battle in Florida moves into the next round, it's worth asking how far we really want to travel down the product-liability road when it comes to guns—and many other things.