Two families of children killed in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting are filing a lawsuit against the manufacturer and seller of the weapon used in the attack.
The families of Jaime Guttenberg and Alex Schachter—both gunned down at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in February—charge American Outdoor Brands and the Tactical Supply store with being complicit in the massacre. By supplying accused gunman Nikolas Cruz with an AR-15-style rifle, they say the companies are directly responsible for the deaths of 17 students and teachers.
According to The New York Times and the Tampa Bay Times, the suit is trying to overturn a 17-year old Florida law, too.
Enacted in 2001 by then-Governor Jeb Bush, Florida prohibits victims of firearms violence from suing the manufacturers and distributors of whichever weapon was used in the crime. The bill, writes the Tampa Bay Times, was Bush’s attempt to shield gun-makers from having to pay the health costs associated with homicide and shootings.
Parkland families worry the legislation means they’ve no right to litigate—and that if they tried, they’d go broke without recourse.
The statute, says the Tampa Bay Times, ‘makes what attorneys call a confusing reference that private individuals could sue the gun industry on the basis of breach of contract or express warranty as a result of a defect in the weapon.’
Advocates working on behalf of Parkland victims and survivors say the phrasing could make firearms manufacturers immune from any and all litigation.
“What I have learned in this process since Feb. 14, the day they were murdered with an AR-15, nobody says, ‘We can be responsible,’” said Fred Guttenberg on Thursday. “Our legislators won’t do anything about the law. The gun lobby says we shouldn’t do anything about the law.
“The manufacturers, marketers and retailers of these guns say, ‘It’s not our fault.’”
Continuing, Guttenberg said, “This is the only industry where there is apparently a protected class. Well, we’re going to change history and break that protection. Enough is enough.”
Guttenberg’s lawyer, Stephen F. Rosenthal, said the suit is a first step in ensuring that victims of firearms violence can sue gun-makers.
“The reason you have not seen, I suspect, suits against gun manufacturers in this state very much before since this law was passed, is the sword of Damocles hanging over peoples’ heads saying, if you do this, if you even bring the suit, you lose, it’s automatic,” said Rosenthal. “And that’s not how this statute should read.”
A law professor quoted by The Tampa Bay Times said the statute seems to be geared toward protecting firearms-makers from the federal government—not from private parties like Parkland families. But even if the courts ruled in favor of Guttenberg and Schachter, they’d still have to navigate potential hurdles posed by federal law.
“I understand the risk, I do,” Guttenberg said. “But you know what? Too many people are dying. We’re going to raise a generation of kids who are going to be afraid to go to school. That’s unacceptable. And so you know what? We’re going to start the process of fixing that today.”