What happened two years ago at Lake Worth Middle School in Palm Beach, Fla., was tragic.
Sent home early on the last day of school for throwing a water balloon, 13-year-old Nathaniel Brazill returned with a pistol he had stolen from a family friend. When English teacher Barry Grunow refused to let the ill-mannered student say goodbye to a group of girls in a classroom, Brazill drew the weapon. Fired once. The round struck Grunow, a husband and father of two, in the head.
Grunow died. Brazill earned himself a 28-year sentence for second-degree murder.
One life snuffed out on May 26, 2000, because of an evil act, another life ruined.
Fast forward to the present.
What happened Thursday in a West Palm Beach courtroom was a gross miscarriage of justice.
The shooting victim's widow, won a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against weapons distributor Valor Corps, the company that sold the .25-caliber pistol Brazill used to kill his teacher. Saying the company held some measure of responsibility for distributing an unreasonably dangerous handgun, the judge ordered Valor to pay $1.2 million to Pam Grunow.
The plaintiff's attorney, Bob Montgomery, made several claims that the jury bought hook, line and sinker:
l The pistol, commonly referred to as a Saturday Night Special because of its cheap price and small size, should have been sold with a safety feature such as a lock that could have stopped Brazill from pulling the trigger.
l The pistol is poorly designed -- small, easy to conceal.
It's not a coincidence that Montgomery happens to be the same attorney who successfully engineered Florida's $11 billion lawsuit against Big Tobacco. Montgomery just found a way to reapply his winning strategy. Look for a company with deep pockets that also distributes a product with the potential for abuse. Keep an eye out for someone adversely affected by that product and represent them. Sit a sympathetic jury that cares more for "helping out" a grieving plaintiff than putting blame where it really belongs, and you can retire early.
Despite the verdict rendered Thursday, the blame for Grunow's murder rests solely with Brazill -- not Valor Corps, and certainly not the entire gun industry, as Montgomery, The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and anti-gun activists everywhere believe.
Brazill, though only 13 when he committed his crime, was certainly old enough to know right from wrong. He was mature enough to know that firearms kill. This youth brought a loaded firearm back to Lake Worth Middle School after he had been sent home for disciplinary reasons. With a shell jacked into the semi-automatic, Brazill aimed, pulled the trigger of the small firearm (which is hard to aim -- believe me, I own a .25) and managed to accidentally, as his attorney alleged in 2000, hit Grunow right between the eyes.
The firearm, which is merely a tool with no conscience to deliberate matters of right and wrong, operated as it was designed to. Unfortunately, the pistol, which had been in circulation for 11 years without incident, fell into the hands of someone bent on evil. The .25 didn't spirit itself to the school.
We're left to believe from Thursday's verdict that had Brazill stabbed his teacher with a steak knife, cutlery distributors would be sued for designing a tool that can be used improperly.
Where does this erosion of personal responsibility end? Are we to believe we're pawns in the hands of tools, unable to make decisions for ourselves about whether an action is right?