On December 14, 2012, a 36 year old man entered a primary school in central China, intent upon injuring school children. He was apprehended after injuring 20 students, with no fatalities. Two days later, a 20 year old man entered an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut with the same intent–but with hugely different results. In Newton, Connecticut, 20 children and 6 adults were killed and the police were unable to apprehend the shooter before he fatally shot himself.
In both instances the attacker was apparently mentally unstable; the victims were the most innocent people on earth, dependent upon adults for survival and protection. Why the different outcomes? The Chinese man was armed only with a knife; whereas the 20 year old Connecticut man was armed with an assault rifle, two pistols and enough ammunition to kill every student in the school. In both instances it was the attacker that injured the children, not the knife or the guns, but it is beyond argument that had the Newton attacker been armed with just a knife the outcome would have been vastly different.
We have a constitutional right to bear arms, but is that right without responsibility and completely unfettered? We have a constitutional right to free speech, but that right doesn’t permit the yelling of “fire” in a crowded movie theatre. Does the right to bear arms logically include the right to bear assault rifles?
Some would argue that the right to own assault rifles is a constitutionally protected right intended to permit citizens to fight an oppressive government. Is that truly the case? Did the mother of the shooter in Newtown own an assault rifle because she wanted to be prepared to join a militia if Connecticut decided to secede from the Union? If so, is that right unreasonably limited if the owners of such weapons are forced to bear responsibility for the misuse of their weapons?
In Virginia, legally speaking one of the most conservative states, a person who possess explosives has a duty to use not just ordinary care, or reasonable care, but a “high degree of care” to prevent the injury of others. Shouldn’t that duty apply to one who possesses assault style weapons?
As trial lawyers dedicated to speaking on behalf of innocently injured parties due to the negligence of others, we are charged with making people and corporations accept responsibility for the injury to others when it could have been reasonably prevented. Regardless of what we think was the intent of the 2nd Amendment, we owe it to those 20 children and their 6 teachers to determine how these weapons got into the hands of the shooter and whether accountability goes beyond the shooter himself.
Gary B. Mims