Md. high court says gun maker is not liable in child's death

March 07, 2002|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

In a blow to gun-control advocates, the Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that a gun maker cannot be held liable for the accidental death of an East Baltimore toddler, who shot himself with his father's handgun, because the gun was improperly kept under a mattress.

The ruling rejects the contention by the mother of 3-year-old Jordan Garris that the Ruger semiautomatic pistol should be considered defective because it lacked a lock to make it childproof. The argument by Melissa M. Halliday failed in two lower courts and was blocked from going before a Baltimore jury.

Instead, judges of the state's highest court noted that the gun worked fine in June 1999 when the boy accidentally killed himself.

"There was no malfunction of the gun; regrettably, it worked exactly as it was designed and intended to work and as any ordinary consumer would have expected it to work," the majority concluded in its 6-1 ruling. "What caused this tragedy was the carelessness of Jordan's father in leaving the weapon and the magazine in places where the child was able to find them, in contravention not only of common sense but of multiple warnings given to him at the time of purchase."

"I think this demonstrates that people who bring handguns into their homes have to take responsibility for the safety of the children in their homes," said Paul F. Strain, lawyer for Sturm, Ruger & Co.

He said the ruling probably means another Maryland case against Sturm, Ruger that is pending in Baltimore Circuit Court will not be viable, though gun-control advocates said that may not be the case.

Lawrence G. Keane, vice president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation hailed yesterday's ruling.

"It is not correct to try to fix blame on the manufacturer," he said.

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