New York isn’t a great state to be a gun owner, but it’s where millions of people live. Many of those are gun owners and they’re not necessarily interested in leaving their states for whatever reason. I get it.
The reason people own guns vary, but one of the biggest reasons is self-defense. That’s just as true in New York as it is anywhere else.
However, a new bill being introduced may potentially make life difficult for those who are forced to take a life in self-defense.
Families of victims of gun violence would be able to sue shooters for “emotional damages,” under a bill two Long Island legislators proposed Tuesday.
The measure, supported by Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Huntington) and Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), would change New York’s wrongful death laws to allow lawsuits seeking compensation for emotional damages stemming from a death or serious injury caused by a gun.
Currently, state law allows families to pursue economic damages only, which the legislators say is an “antiquated” view. They noted 41 other states allow wrongful death lawsuits to pursue non-economic damages.
Wrongful death lawsuits have sprouted from the spate of mass shootings around the nation. For example, multiple families have sued the gunman of the 2018 Waffle House shooting in Tennessee that left four dead.
The lawmakers said the legislation would provide “recourse to parents who lose a child to gun violence” to compensate them for grief and suffering.
In and of itself, that’s fine. It’s not like someone locked up is really going to pay a six-figure or larger settlement, but that’s neither here nor there.
So far there’s been nothing in this discussion that would limit this to just those who commit acts such as murder or manslaughter. The language used in the discussion doesn’t seem to differentiate between a murder and an act of self-defense. After all, the phrase, “stemming from a death or serious injury caused by a gun” is fairly vague.
Of course, that’s also the reporter’s words, not the bill’s proponents.
Yet there’s isn’t much better.
“This bill will provide desperately needed recourse for families who lose a loved one due to senseless gun violence,” Gaughran said in a statement. “It will bring New York’s nearly 150-year old wrongful death statute in line with the rest of the country and allow financial protections to grieving families.”
Further, the bill itself doesn’t actually help either.
You see, the problem is the term “wrongful death.” To most folks, this would suggest that it would apply to people who kill others wrongfully, but the problem is that wrongful death is a very different animal from murder or manslaughter.
Take the case of Trayvon Martin. While George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder, there was still a wrongful death lawsuit. This was in a clearcut case of self-defense.
What this bill will do, in addition to its advertised purpose, is open the door for even more crushing lawsuits against people who defend their life with a firearm. Instead of the already immense financial burden that arises when someone acts in self-defense, we’re going to potentially see people suing for all that and claiming emotional damages.
That’s something the state needs desperately to address. People who act in self-defense shouldn’t then be victimized again, only this time the perpetrators are using the state as the weapon.