Child’s Death Not Gun Maker’s Fault

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In a setback for gun-control advocates who are focusing on the harm that guns do to children, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled last month that a gun manufacturer was not liable for the death of a 3-year-old boy who shot himself in the head. The decision upheld the rulings of two lower courts.

Jordan Garris of East Baltimore shot himself in June 1999 after he found a semiautomatic pistol under his father’s mattress and loaded it with a clip found in the same room. The boy’s mother, Melissa M. Halliday, sued Sturm, Ruger and Co., claiming that the weapon was defective and unreasonably dangerous.

The court ruled 7-1 that the handgun functioned as intended and was not defective.

“It’s very disappointing and sets a very dangerous precedent,” said Daniel Vice, staff attorney for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, based in Washington, D.C. “It shifts the burden from the manufacturer to the consumer.”

Since 1998, at least 32 municipalities and New York state have sued gun makers, dealers and associations, with most of the complaints highlighting accidental and intentional shootings of youth, or the emotional effect of gun violence on children.

But the courts have not been receptive. Many cases have been dismissed (some are pending appeal) while others continue to make their way through the judicial process. (See “Youth-Focused Gun Lawsuits Get Knocked Down in Early Rounds,” November 2001).