John Culhane writes: The devastation wrought by all-too-regular mass shootings leads to immediate and predictable calls for “thoughts and prayers” for the victims. But what about compensation for the harm suffered? Unfortunately, that is one area in which U.S. law is inadequate, often preventing any kind of redress for the victims.
But that’s not so in the recent case out of Texas. The federal government could be—and should be—on the hook for personal injury and wrongful death damages. The Air Force’s unexplained and appalling failure to enter the shooter’s domestic-violence conviction into a national database that would have prevented him from obtaining a firearm is actionable.
In most cases of death-by-firearms, victims have no practical redress. The shooter, who’s the most obviously culpable actor, is usually either dead or broke. Depending on the facts of a given case, there might be a claim against those who manufactured or sold the weapon used in the killing, but victims would have a better chance against the seller of an ax than against a gun seller. That’s because of the Protection of Legal Commerce in Arms Act, a federal law that, with a few exceptions, rules out claims against those who sell guns and ammunition. So, there’s virtually no accountability anywhere in the system, and victims are left to whatever insurance they might have and to local crime compensation funds, which are typically limited in the amount of money recoverable. Sometimes, there’s also a private, charitable fund for victims of high-profile shootings, most recently including the Las Vegas massacre.
This case, however, is different. Victims—the injured survivors and the family members of those killed—may have a claim against the U.S. government for what seems like the plain negligence, or worse, of whoever failed to enter Texas shooter Devin Patrick Kelley’s name into the federal crime database—a listing that would have made him ineligible to buy a gun. The PLCAA doesn’t protect the government, since it applies to only gun and ammo sellers. So we’re left with the Air Force’s carelessness, which led to the murderer’s ability to purchase and use a weapon he had no right to possess. [Continue reading…]