AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – After Mayah Zamora was shot and injured at Robb Elementary School, her family did what many mass shooting survivors do: They sued.
They sued the store on Main Street in Uvalde, Texas, that sold the teenage gunman his AR-style rifle. They sued the gun maker. And they sued the police who waited 77 minutes outside Mayah’s fourth-grade classroom before stopping the shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers.
“More than what we are looking for is some kind of justice,” said Christina Zamora, Mayah’s mother.
As gun violence continues to soar, the US government and gun manufacturers have reached large settlements in recent years following some of the nation’s worst mass shootings. Last April, the Department of Justice announced a $144 million settlement with relatives and families of the Texas church attack in 2017, which was carried out by a former US airman with a criminal history.
The lawsuits, relatives and victims of mass shootings say, is an effort to gain accountability and prevent more attacks — by forcing reforms, cracking down on the gun industry and strengthening -on background checks after lapses failed to stop gunmen from buying weapons.
But despite two high-profile settlements last year involving gun manufacturers, and Democrat-led states rolling back some industry protections, not only high hurdles remain. for successful cases, but in some areas the barriers are rising.
On May 11, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee introduced a new law that further protects gun manufacturers from lawsuits, weeks after a shooter at a Nashville school killed six people.
It comes as lawyers say the narrow path for victims to bring charges has begun to widen, including for the Uvalde families, who on Wednesday will mark a year since the most deadliest school shooting in Texas history.
“I think there are more opportunities for accountability than maybe there were five to 10 years ago,” said Eric Tirschwell, executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, which for years has brought lawsuits against the gun industry. gun and also involved in the Uvalde case.
The track record for prosecutions after mass shootings is mixed. The gun industry remains largely protected from liability under a federal law, known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, although it does not completely exempt or immunize gun manufacturers from those case.
Over the past decade, courts have tossed out dozens of lawsuits, most of which did not target the gun industry but instead brought claims of negligence against the government or the places where the attacks took place. . In 2020, casino company MGM Resorts International and its insurers agreed to an $800 million settlement in a shooting on the Las Vegas Strip that killed 58 people and injured hundreds more.
Last year, the maker of the rifle used in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting settled with the families for $73 million over a lawsuit that accused Remington of targeting young, at-risk boys in its marketing. In Tennessee, the GOP sponsor of the new state law waved what happened in Connecticut in defense of the need for more industrial protection: “Some companies will survive a $73 million settlement,” the state Rep. Monty Fritts said in February.
In Uvalde, the victims also accused Daniel Defense, the manufacturer of the weapon used in the attack, of dangerous trafficking. The company has denied that in court, and gun industry groups have widely rejected the argument since the Sandy Hook settlement.
“Commercial speech is still protected speech,” said Mark Oliva, managing director for public affairs at the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
The cases in Uvalde are still in the early stages and not all families have been sued. For the Zamoras, they decided to participate only after Mayah was released from the hospital, which was less than two months after the shooting and multiple surgeries. Next year, according to his parents, they hope he can go back to school in person.
After the Uvalde shooting, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips drive through town and the families share their own experiences suing the gun industry: a decision that ended with them declaring bankruptcy after losing a court order them to pay more than $ 200,000 to the defendants. lawyers.
Their daughter, Jessica, was killed in a 2012 shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Last month, the couple joined Colorado Gov. Jared Polis as a Democrat signed laws aimed at making it easier to sue the gun industry, one of which prevents plaintiffs from paying if their cases are dismissed.
“They don’t know what’s coming down the pike,” Lonnie Phillips said of the victims who brought charges. “They just know their child is gone and someone has to pay.”
Photo: FILE – Investigators search for evidence outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, May 25, 2022, after an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 students and two teachers. The district’s superintendent said Wednesday, June 22, that Chief Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde school district’s police chief, has been placed on leave after allegations that he made mistakes in his response to the mass shooting. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
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Texas Gun Liability