A California judge ruled that victims of a 2019 shooting in San Diego that left one dead and three wounded can sue the manufacturer of a rifle and the gun shop that sold it.
Superior Court Judge Kenneth Medel ruled (pdf) Wednesday that the victims and families in the shooting in Poway, California, can file a lawsuit against Smith & Wesson, one of the largest gun manufacturers in the world, over alleged negligence.
Lawyers for Smith & Wesson argued that the lawsuit was barred by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a federal law that shields gun manufacturers and sellers from liability. The 2005 law prohibits arms manufacturers and dealers from being sued over crimes that were committed with their products, although there are exceptions to the rule.
The plaintiffs in the suit alleged that the gun maker violated California state law by designing the M&P15 rifle—similar to the popular AR-15 rifle—so that it can be easily modified. The suit, which is backed by the gun-control group Brady Center, also claimed Smith & Wesson’s marketing “attracted impulsive young men with military complexes who were particularly likely to be attracted to the unique ability of AR-15 style weapons,” according to reports.
Medel also ruled that the gun shop, San Diego Guns, could be sued for selling a weapon to the alleged shooter, John Earnest, who the plaintiffs claimed was only 19 years old and lacked a hunting license that would have exempted him from California’s 21-year minimum age to purchase a gun.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit also claimed Earnest’s parents “negligently facilitated their son’s (the shooter’s) ability to gain access to one or more pieces of weaponry/tactical equipment used in the incident, upon information and belief, having prior knowledge of his … propensity for violence.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and an injunction requiring Smith & Wesson to stop its allegedly deceptive marketing campaign and to change its distribution and sales practices.
Smith & Wesson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The Epoch Times also reached out to San Diego Guns for comment.
At the time the lawsuit was filed last year, pro-Second Amendment group San Diego County Gun Owners described the suit as “asinine.” Michael Schwartz, the executive director of the group, said that the plaintiffs and the Brady Center “are blaming the gun shop and manufacturer for the actions of a highly disturbed monster.”
Schwartz added: “The manufacturer is no more to blame than Ford or Chrysler is to blame for drunk driving. They are also legally protected by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. This is settled law which makes naming them as plaintiffs frivolous. I hope the victims are able to find peace through other means rather than following the advice of those who only want profit.”
The Supreme Court, which has rarely taken up Second Amendment cases in recent years, on April 26 agreed to hear a dispute over New York state’s gun laws that could broaden gun rights in the United States. The case involves New York state’s ban on carrying handguns in public without a permit.
Reuters contributed to this report.