A man has won the right sue the maker, distributor and seller of the gun that ended his hopes of becoming a star sportsman after he was shot.
The US case is unique, being the first to allow an exception to American laws that shield the gun industry from the criminal actions of people using their products.
The exception was allowed by the Supreme Court because lawyers for the shooting victim argued the guns were knowingly sold to criminals, which implies the law was broken by the companies involved.
The case is being backed by the Brady Center for Gun Violence, a gun control group, which says this is the first case under current US law in which a gun manufacturer or distributor may be held liable for supplying gun traffickers and facilitating a criminal shooting.
“This important ruling states that gun companies who choose to supply the criminal gun market are not above the law,” the Brady Center’s Jonathan Lowy said.
However, the gun maker, Hi-Point Firearms, was confident that it could successfully defend the case.
Its attorney, Scott Allan, said the next stage of the case would reveal that the company had not broken any laws, and that it only sells to companies or people licensed by the US federal government.
Daniel Williams was 16 when, in 2003, he was shot in the stomach and badly wounded. He recovered, but the injuries he suffered ended his ambition to play professional basketball.
He was shot a gang member in a case of mistaken identity.
Williams’ lawyers claim that Hi-Point Firearms, distributor MKS Supply and Charles Brown, who was then a licensed firearm dealer, knowingly sold the gun to a convicted criminal was who barred from buying guns. If they did not know this, they should have known it.
The criminal, James Bostic, had bought about 200 Hi-Point 9mm pistols in bulk from Brown, but did it using a ‘straw buyer’ who fronted for him and signed the paperwork.
Bostic then sold a pistol to gang member Cornell Caldwell on the black market. Caldwell was convicted of Williams’ shooting.
Even if Williams’ case fails to stand up, the precedent may allow scores of similar cases to reach the courts at enormous cost to the firearm industry.
There is a real risk that the gun control lobby may use such cases as a weapon against the industry, forcing companies to defend dubious cases that would not succeed but which will have a large financial impact.
The US anti-hunting lobby has used similar tactics to delay or try to shut down hunting seasons and bully hunting businesses.