- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

In the wake of tragedy, the frenetic scramble for blame can net some unlikely victims. The manufacturer of a product with obvious and well-documented hazards hazards it makes no attempt to conceal was the latest target of one such misguided search for culpability.
In a stunningly clearheaded decision, the California Supreme Court on Monday ruled that gun manufacturer Navegar Inc. is not liable for the misuse of its product. Merrill vs. Navegar originated from Gian Luigi Ferri's rampage in a San Francisco law firm on July 1, 1993, that left him and eight others dead. The court's decision marks a return to precedent, overturning an abhorent 1999 ruling from California's First District Court of Appeal which held Navegar liable. To date, no high-state court or federal appellate court has ruled against gun manufacturers in similar cases.
And they shouldn't. Irrespective of the Second Amendment saga, gun manufacturers occupy a legitimate place in the American market. To attribute the illegal and violent use of a weapon to the manufacturer is akin to holding Jack Daniel responsible for every abusive spouse or overturned truck that smells like Black Label whiskey. Or perhaps a suit against pork farmers for the bacon-lover's elevated cholesterol.
The central question here is accountability, which, paradoxically, both the plaintiff and defendant claim for their side. Merrill would have you believe that the manufacturer of a product assumes the role of parent to the consumer, and thus bears the child-watching responsibilities of ensuring that the product is never misused or handled recklessly. By this logic, it was Navegar's critical lapse of vigilance that allowed Ferri to use a fake Nevada license to purchase the two TEC-DC9 semiautomatic pistols, to modify the trigger enabling automatic capability (with a product Navegar doesn't even make), to illegally transport the weapons into California and, finally, to open fire in a law office. That's a strange version of accountability indeed.
Seeking out accomplices where there are none is the last recourse of the depraved. But to shovel blame onto an unknowing enabler, such as a gun manufacturer, is a perverse distortion of the responsibility that is the shooter's alone to bear.

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