A lawsuit filed last week in a Nevada state court follows similar litigation over previous mass shootings, including the Sandy Hook incident in which 20 elementary school children and six adults were killed by a crazed gunman in 2012. Plaintiffs are suing Slide Fire Solutions, the manufacturer of devices that the Las Vegas shooter used to facilitate automatic fire. In most such cases, plaintiffs against firearms manufacturers have failed to overcome the high bar set for liability that is found in a law put in place by Republicans.
Following the deadly shootings in Las Vegas by Stephen Paddock, which reaped 58 dead and hundreds wounded at a music festival, police found in his Mandalay Bay Resort room a dozen so-called bump stocks, which enable a semi-automatic weapon to fire at nearly the rate of an automatic weapon. The crucial issue in the case, which was filed in Clark County District Court, is whether the guns themselves were thus mechanically altered. The complaint seeks class action status and alleges that Slide Fire Solutions Inc, a bump stock maker, and other as yet unidentified manufacturers and retailers, were negligent in producing and selling the devices.
According to the complaint, “This horrific assault did not occur, could not occur, and would not have occurred with a conventional handgun, rifle, or shotgun, of the sort used by law-abiding responsible gun owners for hunting or self-defense.” The plaintiffs in the complaint include Devon Prescott, Brooke Freeman, and Tasaneeporn Upright, as representatives of the potential class. The Nevada residents are seeking unspecified damages as well as money to pay for the victims’ counseling and treatment for emotional distress. Of counsel to the plaintiffs is the Eglet Prince law firm of Las Vegas, and by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The plaintiffs also want money to pay for medical monitoring for those who attended the festival and were affected by the attack. “Paddock could not have injured so many people without a bump stock,” the complaint states. “Paddock may not have launched his military-style assault without a bump stock. There are people who were killed, injured, and suffered emotional distress who would not have been, if Paddock had not possessed a bump stock.”
After the Sandy Hook shooting, victims have filed suit. In suits filed against firearms manufacturer Remington Arms, the first case was dismissed by a judge who cited the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). The act was passed in 2005 and protects gun manufacturers and dealers from liability for crimes committed with their firearms.
Gun rights advocates have pointed out that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has determined in at least two separate instances that bump stocks are legal under existing federal statutes. This depends on whether “they mechanically alter the function of the firearm to fire fully automatic,” according to ATF special agent Jill A. Snyder at a press conference last week. “Bump fire stocks, while simulating automatic fire, do not actually alter the firearm to fire automatically, making them legal under current federal law.”
Bump stocks use the recoil of the rifle to increase the rate of fire instead of using a mechanism to cause the repeated firing. According to Slide Fire’s website, “The user generates a forward activation force” so that “the trigger collides with the stabilized finger, stimulating the first round of ammunition in the receiver.” Slide Fire goes on to declare, “A recoil force from the discharging ammunition pushes the firing unit rearwardly so that the trigger separates from the stabilized finger.”
Whether or not bump stocks are contemplated by the PLCAA, which indemnifies manufacturers of guns and ammunition as well as “a component part of a firearm or ammunition” from litigation. However, PLCCA includes several exceptions, including negligence. The Las Vegas lawsuit is claiming negligence.
A 2010 letter from the ATF to Slide Fire refers to a letter the company sent in which it argues that its bump stock “is intended to assist persons whose hands have limited mobility.” In the court filing in Las Vegas, the above statement is paired with remarks made by Slide Fire founder Jeremiah Cottle that bump stocks were for “people like me [who] love full auto,” referring to automatic weapons. “Plaintiffs are unaware of any measures taken by Slide Fire to ensure that bump stocks would only be sold to persons whose hands had limited mobility, or to even see if persons buying bump stocks who were not limited in mobility had any legitimate reason to buy them,” the lawsuit argues.
Attorney Avery W. Gardiner of the Brady center said she doesn’t believe PLCAA will protect bump stock manufacturers. “PLCAA covers firearms and ammunition,” she said. “A bump stock is not a firearm and it is not ammunition. It does not qualify for immunity. I would be surprised if the defendants didn’t try to make a PLCAA argument, but they will not win.” She also pointed out the letter sent by the ATF in 2010, which specifically states that the bump stock “is a firearm part and is not regulated as a firearm.”
Gardiner said,“We need to know more about who made, marketed, and sold these devices. It’s not just about makers. We want to know who sold the bump stocks to the Las Vegas shooter.” She said that she believes that defendants in the Las Vegas lawsuit will seek to have the case dismissed.
While Slide Fire is the only company named in the lawsuit, the complaint also refers to unnamed, “Doe” and “Roe” manufacturers and retailers. Slide Fire holds a variety of patents related to the bump stock and has sued competitors in the past for infringement.
The National Rifle Association has said that “devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.” A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives to ban bump stocks entirely.