Mother of Uvalde victim files lawsuit against gunmakers, police

The case is the latest to challenge a status quo that typically grants immunity to firearms companies.

Law enforcement has been criticised for its slow response to the mass shooting that resulted in 21 fatalities, most of them children, at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in May [File: Dario Lopez-Mills/AP Photo]

The last conversation Sandra Torres had with her 10-year-old daughter was about her nervous excitement over whether she’d make the all-star softball team. Hours later, Eliahna Torres was among 19 children and two teachers massacred in a shooting at their elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

With few answers about law enforcement’s 77-minute wait on May 24 in a school hallway rather than confronting the gunman, Sandra Torres filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against police, the school district and the maker of the gun the shooter used.

“My baby never made it out of the school,” she said. “There’s no accountability or transparency. There’s nothing being done.”

The lawsuit accuses the city, the school district and several police departments of a “complete failure” to follow active shooter protocols and os violations of the victims’ constitutional rights by “barricading them” inside two classrooms with the killer for more than an hour. The city, school district and police did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Torres is being helped by the legal arm of the group Everytown for Gun Safety. Her suit also names the manufacturer of the AR-style semiautomatic rifle that Salvador Ramos used to fire more than 100 rounds in the shooting.

The claim is part of a new and expanding legal front in the nationwide court battle over firearms. While gunmakers are typically immune in the United States under federal law from lawsuits over crimes committed with their products, families of victims of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, secured a $73m settlement with Remington, the maker of the weapon used in that crime.

The settlement came after the victims successfully argued that suing over marketing under state law was an exception to the federal immunity measure.

The new Uvalde suit alleges that marketing tactics by Daniel Defense violated the Federal Trade Commission Act by negligently using militaristic imagery, product placement in combat video games and social media to target “vulnerable and violent young men”, said Eric Tirschwell, executive director at Everytown Law.

“It wasn’t by accident that he went from never firing a gun to wielding a Daniel Defense AR-15,” Tirschwell said, citing the findings of a report written by an investigative committee from the Texas House of Representatives. “We intend to prove Daniel Defense marketing was a significant factor in the choices that Ramos made.”

The company, based in Black Creek, Georgia, did not immediately return a message seeking comment, but in a congressional hearing in July, CEO Marty Daniels called the Uvalde shooting and others like it “pure evil” and “deeply disturbing”. Still, he separated the weapons themselves from the violence, saying mass shootings in the US are local problems to be solved locally.

Everytown is also part of a similar lawsuit over a shooting on parade-goers in Highland Park, Illinois. If arguments based on federal law are successful, it could open up gunmakers to costly civil lawsuits as the nation grapples with rising gun violence and a string of mass shootings.

“It would be an important step forward to holding gun manufacturers to account if their marketing crosses a line,” Tirschwell said.

The case also names the gun shop where Ramos bought the weapon used in the shooting along with another AR-15 and ammunition, purchases that totaled thousands of dollars.

The July report from the Texas House found that nearly 400 law enforcement officials rushed to the scene of the shooting, but “egregiously poor decision-making” resulted in more than an hour of chaos before the gunman was finally confronted and killed. It criticized state and federal law enforcement as well as local authorities for failing to follow active shooter training and prioritizing their own safety over the victims’.

Another parent whose child was wounded in the shooting and two parents whose children were on campus at the time filed the first lawsuit related to the Uvalde shooting in late September.

For Sandra Torres, the case is another way to seek answers about the botched police response.

“For 77 minutes, they did nothing. Nothing at all,” she said. “She’ll never know what it’s like to get married, to graduate, to go to her first prom.”

Source: The Associated Press