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Lawsuits likely outcome of Isla Vista ‘day of retribution’ killings

If monetary claims for damages emerge from the Isla Vista shootings, don't expect them against NRA, no matter how much anti-gunners want to blame them.
If monetary claims for damages emerge from the Isla Vista shootings, don't expect them against NRA, no matter how much anti-gunners want to blame them.
Photo by Spencer Weiner/Getty Images

Don’t expect the National Rifle Association to be sued, at least successfully, following the stabbing and car ramming of some victims, and shooting of others, in spite of angry and irrational gun-grabber rhetoric blaming the organization for the murders. As seen in a weekend Gun Rights Examiner post that is still generating no shortage of predictably hostile and insulting comments, California’s status as a top “gun control” state demonstrates it already provides a virtual wish list of what anti-gunners call “common sense gun safety laws.” Any further erosion of the right to keep and bear arms would involve banning private ownership of firearms altogether, since there’s really nowhere else for the gun-grabbers to go, and they know that would be pushing things too far -- at present.

That this is an ultimate goal has been well-documented in spite of anti-gunners ridiculing such fears with transparent falsehoods like “Nobody wants to take your guns,” followed with accusations of paranoia for exposing what their own words have flat-out called for. That’s one way they ensure their arguments remain scathingly ad hominem and hysterical instead of reality-based. No matter, as has been demonstrated again, the task before gun owners is not to debate with ignorant haters and government monopoly of violence tools, it is to “guard with jealous attention the public liberty,” and to never surrender the “downright force” needed to preserve it.

The gun dealers and manufacturers will probably be absolved as well. After all, the guns were bought legally, which means the killer went through state-mandated background checks and waiting periods, plus the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act would provide justified protections against liability.

Who does that leave to sue? Ours is a litigious society, and survivors will want someone besides the killer to “pay.” And it’s not like there will be a shortage of attorneys licking their chops at a chance to rifle through deep pockets.

So who’s left?

There are the killer's parents, who by all accounts are of means. They knew the defective creature they produced had been in therapy since childhood, and that he was severely disturbed -- enough to call the authorities on him. They must now have some sense of vulnerability, having issued public statements through their lawyer.

Yes, going after them would add to their unimaginable torment. They have to be going through white-hot poker-in-the-gut hell, along with agonizing over what they did and did not do weighed against what they have known and feared about their son for years. By comparison, look at the blame deservedly heaped on Nancy Lanza, who also knew her son was deeply twisted, yet, perhaps due to an all-too-human tendency of denial when it involves admitting horrifying truths about children, allowed him to continue to live where he had free access to guns, or for that matter, to any number of tools that can be used to commit mass murder (noting the three that yielded the highest death tolls in this country did not use guns.)

The truism often stated in this column, that anyone who can’t be trusted with a gun can’t be trusted without a custodian, comes once more to mind.

There’s also the kid’s shrink, reportedly alarmed by the manifesto, but who called the mother instead of 911. While some will argue doctor/patient privilege prevented further action, that’s hardly the case when reasonable fear of violence exists. California imposes a duty to warn “if a psychotherapist has reasonable cause to believe that the patient is in such mental or emotional condition as to be dangerous to himself or to the person or property of another and that disclosure of the communication is necessary to prevent the threatened danger.”

Still, the Crime Prevention Research Center provides compelling reasons “[w]hy we shouldn’t depend on mental health professionals to detect mass killers,” directly contravening the demand to use them to further restrict rights without due process offered by the head of the virulently anti-gun American Psychiatric Association. The therapist had a chance to intervene under existing law and chose to keep things in the family. And despite these arguments, lawyers will primarily concern themselves with more lucrative priorities and potentials.

Finally, there are the authorities themselves. Reports now show this was the third encounter law enforcement had with the killer in under a year.

The mother called them just last month because she was appalled and terrified by videos she saw her son post online. But police “found him to be a 'perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human,’ [and] did not find a history of guns,” Mail Online reports.

The Washington Post tells us the son was contacted by Santa Barbara County deputies, which adds another dimension to the story. They work for Bill Brown, the sheriff who rescinds concealed carry permits, effectively ensuring Santa Barbara is a “gun-free zone,” at least for "law-abiding citizens." Tellingly, we learn it was only after gunfire was exchanged with sheriff’s deputies that the killer realized he was unable to slaughter more victims and ended up apparently self-terminating.

Still, how is it fair to blame deputies for being deceived by a kid who “seemed ‘quiet and timid ...polite and courteous’” as Brown told “Face the Nation”? These guys are neither psychiatrists nor psychics.

Unfortunately, California law, which they are paid to enforce, doesn’t quite see things that way.

“Section 5150 is a section of the California Welfare and Institutions Code ... which allows a qualified officer or clinician to involuntarily confine a person suspected to have a mental disorder that makes him or her a danger to self, a danger to others,” the Wikipedia entry for the process explains. “A qualified officer, which includes any California peace officer, as well as any specifically designated county clinician, can request the confinement after signing a written declaration.”

Want a better source? San Francisco’s Department of Public Health published a “5150 Involuntary Detention Training Manual” that offers some prompts some questions. Was the call from the mother enough to create probable cause (“facts known to the authorized person that would lead a person of ordinary care and prudence to believe, or to entertain a strong suspicion, that the person detained is mentally disordered and is a danger to himself or herself, or others”)? That will be explored. And why, seeing as how the guns were legal, and thus records of their purchases existed, did the deputies evidently know nothing about them, and apparently never even checked to see if the son owned any during the “welfare check” they conducted? Especially since documentation for being a danger to others includes having the “[m]eans available to carry out threats or to repeat attempts (i.e. firearms, or other weapons)”?

Was any deference given because of who the kid was? Would the son of someone of lesser means have been carted off for 72 hours of evaluation? Are there records of communications that show what the mother and deputies said to each other, and if anyone else, like the family lawyer, got involved?

Those are questions that will be asked, and whether anyone should be sued is a decision that will be made by plaintiffs who suffered losses, in consultation with their attorneys who will assess options and opportunities. Whether lawsuits then proceed and are successful will depend on how things go in court, or if settlements are offered and accepted in lieu of trials.

But if lawsuit threats happen, look for them to focus on the parents, involved mental health professionals and the authorities, and, of course, on their insurance carriers, not on the National Rifle Association. That’s because, no matter how enraged the truth makes hate-spewing anti-gun fanatics, it’s not the NRA’s fault and the law will bear that out.


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Isn’t it a little early to be talking about the 2014 elections? Not if you want to win. My latest GUNS Magazine "Rights Watch" column is online, and you can read it well before the issue hits the stands. Click here to read "Get Out The Vote -- Especially Your Own!


My latest JPFO alert notes a whole lot of projection going on. See “Author, Hollywood screenwriter and veteran says he could kill again over guns” and witness homicidal rage from someone “in the business” who doesn’t want you to have a gun.

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