Yesterday, two parents of a victim of the Aurora, Colorado shooting, represented by lawyers from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence filed suit against a number of online retailers including Lucky Gunner and Sportsman’s Guide alleging that they should have known that the Aurora shooter (who will remain nameless) was dangerous and mentally unstable and refused to sell him thousands of rounds of ammo, various magazines, body armor, and tear gas.
The actual legal brief (copied from bradycampaign.org) is an interesting read, which makes the case by thoroughly enumerating the shooter’s unusual behavior before the shooting, from being turned down by grad school, to maintaining a dating site profile with the quote “Will you visit me in prison?”, plus private emails, and his now-infamous denied application to join a local gun club based on his strange behavior.
What the complaint does not elucidate, and what (in my completely un-lawyer-educated opinion) the entire case will turn on is how online retailers were supposed to be aware of these isolated incidents and construct from them the compelling picture, in hindsight, that we have of a disturbed individual and deny him what was, given his clean record, lawful possession of magazines, ammo, body armor, and tear gas.
It does, however, spell out in detail, where the shooter acquired each piece of gear used, including the rifle, pistol, and shotgun he used in the massacre. All three were purchased, in person, from local area sporting goods retailers. Notably, those companies are not named in the complaint, despite the fact that the weapons used are much more directly responsible for the numerous unlawful murders and attempted murders committed in that movie theater. This absence is caused by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a 2005 law that prohibits civil suits such as this from being filed against manufacturers or dealers of weapons used in the commission of crimes.
This, then, appears to be an attempt to re-enact the successful suits that led to the Act being passed, except this time on the more peripheral dealers of equipment such as magazines, tear gas, and body armor. If those previous suits were fruitful for the Brady Campaign, unfortunately perhaps this one will be too.
Reading the complaint, it clearly has the fingerprints of the anti-gunners all over it. During one series of statements of fact detailing the sequence of the attack, they couldn’t help but mention that:
The .223-caliber Smith & Wesson AR-15 assault rifle was equipped with a drum magazine that could hold up to 100 rounds and shoot as many as 60 times in a minute.
The deadliness of the magazine is, at worst irrelevant and at best more suited to a different part of the document detailing the criminal effects possible with the specified equipment. But like any good gun banner, whoever wrote that part couldn’t pass up getting an emotional jab in.
Even more evocative is the seven pages of statements, all variations on the template:
As a result of [the killer's] shooting spree made possible by the 100 round drum magazine, ammunition, tear gas, and body armor that the Defendants negligently provided, [victim] sustained gunshot wounds to [wound locations].
I’ll freely admit that it is a very difficult seven pages to read. Injuries, disfigurements, surgeries, and rehabilitations. But on the bottom of the same page as the last of those enumerations is this:
Despite [the shooter's] alarming behavior, upon information and belief, the Defendants did not make reasonable inquiries into [his] purchases, nor did the Defendants take any extra precautions when selling [him] weapons, accessories, and ammunition, or ask [him] why he wanted the items.
As horrific as his crimes were, this accusation tucked away on page 17 is a gigantic logical leap. Unfortunately, if the 90s-era lawsuits against gun makers and dealers are any example, this case might just have a snowball’s chance in hell.