Judge Denies Request to Dismiss Mass Shooting Lawsuit
On November 5, 2017, Devin Kelley began firing at churchgoers inside First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 and wounding 20. Kelley used a Ruger AR-556 and 30-round magazines he purchased 18 months prior to the shooting at a San Antonio Academy Sports and Outdoors store. The families of the victims are accusing the store of negligence and asking for millions in damages for physical and mental anguish, disfigurement, and medical expenses.
Academy Sports requested for a dismissal of the case but that motion was denied by District Judge Karen Pozza on February 4, 2019. The attorneys of the family claimed the store should have never sold the firearms to Kelley due to his criminal past and because of gun laws held in his home state of Colorado.
According to a statement from US Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek after the attack, the government failed to document the shooters domestic violence offense while he was in the military. Because of his conviction, he shouldn’t have been able to pass a background check to purchase firearms, but it was never entered into the National Criminal Information Center database.
Kelley presented a Colorado ID card at the San Antonio store to purchase the weapons. Though it is legal to sell magazines with more than 15 rounds in Texas, it is illegal in Colorado. The families’ lawyers have argued that federal law prohibits sales from out-of-state residents unless the buyer comes in person or the sale fully complies with the laws of both states.
Academy Sports’ attorney, Janet Militello, said that even though he was a Colorado resident, Texas law allows the store to sell high-capacity magazines. She also stated that the store shouldn’t be held liable for Kelley’s actions due to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. This act shields firearm dealers from being sued if a crime is committed with a weapon they sold. The exceptions to the act are in negligence cases and if the dealer knowingly broke the law at the time the weapon was sold.
This lawsuit will call into question some state and federal gun laws and may also answer some questions. One of those questions’ being whether dealers will have to decline selling certain items based on the buyers place of residence. Another question is whether shooting victims can file suits and receive monetary damages from dealers.