- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

Another attempt is being made to hold a lawful firearms manufacturer responsible for the deliberate, criminal misuse of one of its products by a third-party actor over which it could not possibly have exerted control. In May 2000, Nathaniel Brazill carried a .25-caliber, semiautomatic pistol into his middle school. He shot and killed his English teacher, Barry Grunow, and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 28 years in prison. A straightforward case? Unfortunately not.

Barry Grunow's widow, Pam, doesn't hold Brazill the juvenile who carried the weapon to the school, aimed it at her husband and deliberately pulled the trigger and caused his death responsible for the murder. She and her lawyers maintain that the assault upon her husband is somehow the responsibility of Valor Corp., the gun manufacturer. In the first lawsuit of its kind, they claim the absence of a trigger lock and the fact that the weapon is readily concealable rendered it overly dangerous, and, in essence, caused the death of Barry Grunow.

That is an absurd line of reasoning. Mrs. Grunow's husband would be alive today if Brazill, who was 13 at the time, had not decided to take his life. The gun is incidental a mere tool with no reason, no volition. It does what it was designed to do for good or ill depending upon the person pulling the trigger. There was no defect in the gun. Had the weapon somehow fired without any human agency involved and a stray bullet taken a life, a case could be made that negligent design caused death and that such negligence is criminally culpable. But in the Grunow case, the gun did nothing wrong. Nathaniel Brazill did.

"With any gun, if you pull the trigger, it will go off," argues attorney John Renzulli, who represents Valor Corp. "You set this gun on a table and it doesn't go off. You don't pull the trigger and it doesn't go off." Brazill caused the gun to discharge, and he has been held to account. The death of Barry Grunow was certainly tragic. But it was not caused by Valor Corp., the concealability of the pistol or the absence of trigger locks. Hopefully, the court that hears this specious case will agree.

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