WASHINGTON -- January 10 -- The Supreme Court today let stand an appeals decision that reinstated a lawsuit by victims of the 1999 Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shootings against gun manufacturers and distributors for negligently supplying the shooter with guns.
While the suit will now proceed to trial, the victims will be denied their right to present their case if the U.S. Senate passes legislation it is expected to consider this year that would throw out the case and others like it around the country.
The Supreme Court let stand a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling upholding a suit brought by victims of Buford Furrow's Aug. 10, 1999, shootings at a North Valley California Jewish Community Center where Furrow carried in an arsenal of semi-automatic handguns and rifles and opened-fire on pre-schoolers and camp counselors, and later killed a postal worker, Joseph Ileto. Ileto's parents and families of four of the injured children brought suit against the manufacturers and distributors of the guns for failing to use reasonable care in their sale and distribution, providing Furrow with access to firearms.
"The courts of this country have made clear that the young victims of this horrific shooting are entitled to their day in court. It is an outrage that many in Congress would deprive them of that right by giving the gun industry unprecedented immunity from civil liability," said Mike Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
The 9th Circuit had reversed a trial court's dismissal of the case and was the first federal appeals court decision to find that gun manufacturers and distributors owe a duty to use reasonable care in their sales and distribution of guns. The 9th Circuit panel found that the manufacturers and distributors of the guns that Furrow used could be liable in negligence and public nuisance for the shootings. The plaintiffs alleged that the gun manufacturers and distributors develop and control distribution channels that they know regularly provide guns to criminals. The decision joined a chorus of state court rulings that have gone against the gun industry recently, exposing the reckless way the industry supplies the criminal market.
Even though the court held that the plaintiffs' claims were meritorious, the case would be barred if gun industry immunity legislation soon to be considered by the U.S. Senate becomes law. Such legislation would give the gun industry unprecedented immunity from legal claims and retroactively bar most lawsuits against gun sellers.