Court nixes rifle target maker’s defamation suit against NBC

NEW YORK — A rifle target maker missed its mark when it said in a lawsuit that NBC mischaracterized its exploding targets as bombs, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said an NBC “Today” show segment’s description of the product as a “bomb” was substantially true. The ruling rejected a 2015 lawsuit Tannerite Sports LLC brought against NBCUniversal News Group.

In the defamation lawsuit, which sought unspecified damages, Tannerite said the March 2015 report mischaracterized its targets as bombs on a shelf. The court said NBC made clear the targets’ ingredients must be mixed and shot before they explode. The court also criticized Tannerite’s complaint that NBC associated its product with terrorists.

A spokesman did not immediately return a message left Tuesday at the company’s Pleasant Hill, Oregon, headquarters.

Lawyer David Cargille, who argued the case but no longer represents the company, said the claims should have been allowed to go to a jury. He said it was “wrong for the courtroom door to be closed by one judge.”

NBC News said in a statement it was “very pleased that the court determined our reporting was accurate and that there was no basis for a libel suit.”

The 2nd Circuit in a decision written by Circuit Judge Rosemary S. Pooler noted that Tannerite’s product guide recommends its targets be detonated “away from populated areas” and that improper use of them might start fires, be less safe or cause erratic performance.

The appeals court said credible definitions of “bomb” describe objects designed or intended to explode rather than items that might happen to explode, such as an oxygen tank, a battery, a champagne bottle or a potato in a microwave oven.

In its broadcast, NBC emphasized the easy accessibility of Tannerite targets, which can be bought online or at most sporting goods stores, the 2nd Circuit said. The appeals court added that NBC described the key ingredient of Tannerite targets as ammonium nitrate, a substance NBC noted was a favourite of terrorists and had been used in the deadly 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

According to Tannerite’s website, the company’s corporate investigator was trying to determine if its product was positively identified as having been used in an explosion in Manhattan in September 2016 that injured 30 people.

State Assemblyman David Buchwald, a White Plains Democrat, said law enforcement authorities told him that it was. Legislation Buchwald introduced before the bombing to regulate products made by Tannerite and others in the state is pending.

Buchwald noted that permits for the products are required in a few states, including Vermont, Maryland and Louisiana, while they have been banned in Tennessee and regulated in parts of California. He said the U.S. Forest Service also has banned them from its properties in five states because their misuse can ignite forest fires.

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