Even though talk of gun control has lessened on the political front, firearms litigation continues. Last month, the estate of Jasmine Thar filed suit against Remington in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, arising out of the December 23, 2011 shooting death of the North Carolina teenager. Thar was shot when 23-year old James Blackwell’s Remington .308 Model 700 rifle allegedly misfired while he was cleaning the gun across the street. The stray bullet also struck two other persons; however, those persons were not killed. Blackwell claims he never touched the gun’s trigger. He was investigated for the incident but cleared of any wrongdoing. The estate sued the gun manufacturer, claiming the rifle malfunctions and misfires, a problem for which Remington allegedly has received thousands of complaints. Before diving into the merits of this suit, we here at Abnormal Use must admit that something about this incident doesn’t seem right. In the days after the incident, Thar’s family refused to believe the shooting was accidental, believing it to be racially motivated after a Nazi magazine and Confederate flag were found in Blackwell’s bedroom. The family went as far as to plan boycotts and rallies in the event the district attorney did not charge Blackwell. Thar’s mother, Claretta McNeil, claimed:
That’s sending out a really negative message out to America. That we can shoot people and say it’s an accident and get away with it and it’s okay.
Apparently, the message has now changed. At this point, we know little about the validity of the allegations against Remington. On its website, Remington claims that the rifle is safe when proper precautions are followed. The company’s own scientific testing of rifles that supposedly misfired has apparently never recreated the problem. According to Remington, malfunctions often involve improper maintenance or alterations to the original mechanisms and settings. Clearly, the key issue is the conduct of Blackwell. Regardless of any defects with the gun or his own alleged racial motivations, he was clearly negligent in cleaning a weapon while it was loaded. If this incident was accidental, then it could have been prevented with proper gun safety. The family, however, no longer holds Blackwell responsible. According to Bernie Coaxum, Thar’s grandfather, “Mr. Blackwell is the conduit of this tragedy, not the cause.” Nonetheless, without Blackwell’s intervening act of negligence, the accident clearly could have been prevented.