The families of 10 people who were injured or killed in a mass shooting at a 4th of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, have sued gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson.
On July 4, a shooter opened fire with a Smith & Wesson semiautomatic rifle, killing seven people and injuring more than 40. According to the lawsuits filed this week, 21-year-old Robert Crimo, who is also facing criminal charges, is responsible — but so is Smith & Wesson, for marketing practices that allegedly target young men seeking "more adrenaline." The victims have also sued online distributor Bud’s Gun Shop and Illinois store Red Dot Arms, for allegedly violating a local assault weapons ban, and Crimo's father.
The gun industry has been immune to nearly all lawsuits since Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in 2005, which has made it difficult for victims of mass shootings to go after gun manufacturers in court. Meanwhile, lawsuits are standard when products from cars to cigarettes cause deaths. But in February, families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting got a $73 million settlement after suing Remington Arms, the manufacturer that made the gun used. They were able to get around that law protecting the gun industry by going after Remington Arms' marketing.
"Until our case, I think people thought of it as a perfect immunity that couldn't ever be overcome," attorney Josh Koskoff told CBS News in May. "But they engaged in marketing that anybody would say was just beyond the pale — immoral, unethical."
The lawsuits from the Highland Park victims similarly focus on the marketing.
According to the lawsuit, Smith & Wesson implies that its assault weapons are used by the US military, but that isn't true. Smith & Wesson also creates ads that mimic first-person shooter video games like Call of Duty, in which players often shoot at human targets.
One ad from 2015 has the tagline “Experience real-life first person
shooting with the Smith & Wesson M&P rifle," according to the lawsuit. During the ad, a narrator tells consumers to “experience more adrenaline." The lawsuit also alleges that Smith & Wesson targets young consumers to ensure they stay customers for life.
In statements on Wednesday, people who were injured or whose loved ones died described how it was anything but a game.
“Personally, as one of the victims, it was a terrifying day, the most frightening day of life," Lorena Rebollar Sedano, who was shot in the foot during the parade, said in a statement. "It will remain forever in our memories, where our lives changed completely, especially those who lost their loved ones. After that day, my life is not the same. I am afraid to go out to places where there are crowds of people and I think that is not fair. Because of the marketing and advertising of these kinds weapons, our lives will not be the same. That is why we demand justice so that this person pays and all those responsible pay for what they did."
In a statement, Michael Zeifert, who was shot in the chest, said he and his family don't feel safe anymore.
“As I put my children to bed, I receive questions on if they could be shot while they sleep," he said. "Or whether that loud noise is another gunman? These types of questions are now the norms in our lives. As part of our recovery, we feel it is appropriate to hold accountable the actions of others that enabled the gunman to carry out this senseless act. More importantly, we are advocating that we as a society need to take additional steps to prevent and limit the amount of destruction a gunman can cause at any one time."
More than 70 bullets were fired on the day of the shooting. Smith & Wesson, Bud's Gun Shop, and Red Dot Arms did not respond to requests for comment. Crimo has been charged with seven counts of first-degree murder, to which he pleaded not guilty.
Koskoff, the attorney who represented Sandy Hook families in the Remington case, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that gun companies have been marketing weapons of war to "the most vulnerable" civilians. He now also represents the family of Eduardo Uvaldo, who was killed in Highland Park.
"Just as our historic case in Connecticut held Remington accountable for the destruction in Sandy Hook, we look forward to helping the Highland Park families still reeling from tragedy discover the preventable circumstances that may have contributed to the parade massacre and could help prevent the next mass shooting," he said.