Judge: Synagogue shooting victims’ lawsuit against gun maker, seller can proceed

A Superior Court judge in San Diego held last week that gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson can indeed be sued by survivors as well as the families of those who died in a 2019 shooting incident at a Poway, California synagogue involving one of its products, as The Hill reports.

According to an account of the decision from Reuters, Judge Kenneth Medel disagreed with the manufacturer’s assertion that the claims in the suit were barred by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a federal statute that typically works to protect the makers and sellers of firearms from litigation stemming from events such as the one at the Chabad of Poway, which left one person dead and three others injured.

Judge Medel’s ruling also permits legal action to go forward against San Diego Guns, the retailer that sold the weapon to accused gunman John Earnest, who was 19 years of age at the time of the incident, as The Hill noted.

The lawsuit at issue was filed last summer and includes claims that Smith & Wesson committed a breach of California state law in that it produced its M&P15 rifle – reportedly short for “Military & Police” – in such a way as to be easily converted into an assault-style weapon.

The plaintiffs contend that the gun maker’s marketing strategies “attracted impulsive young men with military complexes who were particularly likely to be attracted to the unique ability of AR-15 style weapons,” Reuters added.

As such, they argued, Smith & Wesson was in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law, which is designed to protect against deceptive marketing practices, removing the case from the provisions of the PLCAA, under which lawsuits can proceed against gun makers and sellers who have breached one or more state statutes.

The claimants in the case are seeking an unspecified dollar amount in damages as well as injunctive relief that would force the gun maker to cease the marketing tactics cited in the complaint and also adjust its sales and distribution methods.

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Jonathan Lowy, heralded the decision, saying, “Today’s judgment is a victory, and an important step on the road to justice for the victims of the shooting at Chabad of Poway Synagogue, and all Americans who believe that the gun industry is not above the law,” adding that the plaintiffs “look forward to proving our case in court, and working to prevent future tragedies.”

Neither Smith & Wesson nor San Diego Guns offered immediate comment on the ruling, but those who support the Second Amendment surely hope that an aggressive battle will be mounted against any outcome that could place undue burdens on the ability of gun makers and sellers to engage in commerce with law-abiding citizens.