NO GUN NECESSARY; JUST LOOK IN YOUR UNDERWEAR
by Todd Hartley
There was a small legal happening a few weeks ago that didn’t make big news and ultimately may not be much more than a blip, but I think it merits further discussion. It concerns a lawsuit against Bushmaster Firearms and Remington on behalf of the families of people killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
A Connecticut judge allowed the lawsuit to move to the discovery phase. This is significant because it’s the first lawsuit against the gun industry to make it that far since 2005, when a federal law was passed that absolved gun manufacturers of any liability should their products be “misused” in a crime to kill people.
Those quotation marks around “misused” came from CNN, by the way, not me. So I don’t know whose word it was in the first place, but it’s an important one.
The little dickhead who shot the kids at Sandy Hook was using a Bushmaster AR-15 semiautomatic rifle that allowed him to fire 154 rounds as quickly as he could pull the trigger. It’s based on a rifle specifically designed for the military to be lightweight and rapid-firing so soldiers in combat can kill enemies more expeditiously.
The military version is fully automatic, while the Bushmaster AR-15 is merely semiautomatic, but they essentially share the same purpose: killing people quickly. No one needs an AR-15 for hunting. No one needs one for home security. It’s just for killing. So how can Remington claim the Sandy Hook shooter was misusing it?
Up to now, Remington and other gun manufacturers haven’t had to answer that question in court, but this time around things could be different.
The 2005 law that grants gun manufacturers immunity makes an exception in the case of something called “negligent entrustment.” This would be, for example, if the gunmaker were to sell a gun to someone who was visibly intoxicated. The lawsuit contends that the way the AR-15 was marketed to young, troubled men was a form of negligent entrustment, and I think they have a case.
Prior to Sandy Hook, ads for the Bushmaster AR-15 featured the headline “Consider your man card reissued,” which clearly isn’t targeting women. And let’s face it: How troubled are you if you think you need a machine gun to prove you’re a man? That’s pathetic.
Bushmaster and Remington, of course, have long since scrubbed the man-card campaign from their websites, but you can find most of it online. It included a manliness test that you could take to earn your man card, which the ads said you were supposed to carry in your wallet, “ready to show at a moment’s notice, instantly ending the discussion for any who would doubt you.”
OK, let’s be honest: No one but a lunatic would ever show their man card to anyone. Hell, no sane person would bother to have a man card in the first place. The only people Bushmaster could possibly be targeting with those ads are disturbed kids who can’t get laid and worry that people don’t think they’re real men.
One argument gun advocates have made in the past regarding so-called “assault weapons” like the AR-15 is that they’re functionally no different from other semiautomatic rifles. Fine. If that’s the case, then why do we have assault weapons?
When you dress up a rifle to look like a machine gun, it presents an inherent challenge to someone’s masculinity, as Bushmaster’s marketing so eloquently shows. If someone thinks the answer to that challenge — the way to show everyone that they’re a man — is to get a weapon of war, inevitably they’re going to want to show that “man card” so that everyone sees how manly they are.
That’s all the Sandy Hook shooter was doing. He was trying to show everyone what a big man he was. If the gun had looked like a regular rifle and not been touted as proof of manhood, perhaps he wouldn’t have been compelled to do it.
If the tobacco industry can be held responsible for causing cancer because of something like Joe Camel, I would think Bushmaster could be held responsible for murder because of the man-card campaign. It was tasteless and awful and aimed at young men who by their very natures shouldn’t own guns.
But will that be enough to allow the lawsuit to prevail in court? Don’t count on it. In 2018, when and if this case finally goes to trial, expect the gun industry to win again. It always does.
Todd Hartley is a man because he identifies as a man and uses the men’s room when he goes wee-wee.