The parents of a woman murdered in the 2012 mass shooting in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater have filed a lawsuit in Colorado state court against websites that supplied shooter James Holmes with the ammunition and supplies to carry out the massacre that left 12 dead and scores injured. The complaint was filed by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was murdered by Holmes on July 20, 2012. The lawsuit seeks injunctions that would require the websites that sold Holmes ammunition, tear gas canisters and high-capacity magazines to reform their business practices.
The Phillipses are being represented by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP. The lawsuit targets the operators of BulkAmmo.com, BulletProofBodyArmorHQ.com, The Sportsman’s Guide and BTP Arms. The lawsuit asserts negligence and public nuisance claims against the websites and alleges that the websites failed to exercise the level of care necessary to ensure that the weapons and ammunition these companies sold did not wind up with someone like Holmes, who suffers from severe mental illness. The complaint states:
This lawsuit does not in any way challenge the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms. This lawsuit also does not challenge in any way the right of responsible businesses to operate a business of selling products — even potentially lethal products — to law-abiding citizens. This lawsuit is about the unreasonably dangerous operation of businesses that negligently supply combat supplies and other materiel to the criminal market. Negligently supplying dangerous people with the means to engage in mass killings not only causes foreseeable harm (such as the shooting incidents underlying this case), it unfairly tarnishes the right of all law abiding citizens to bear arms for lawful purposes, including protection, hunting, or other recreational activities.
The lawsuit details Holmes’ preparation in the weeks leading up to the attack as well as his history of mental illness, which the complaint suggests should have prevented him from ordering weapons and ammunition online. According to the complaint, BulkAmmo sold Holmes more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition; The Sportsman’s Guide sold Holmes a 100-round drum ammunition magazine and 700 rounds of ammunition; BulletProofBodyArmorHQ sold Holmes multiple pieces of body armor and BTP Arms sold him two canisters of tear gas that were used during the attack. Any reasonable person would have recognized the red flags that were sent up based on these purchases. Jonathan Lowry, director of the Brady Center’s Legal Action Project, said in a statement:
A crazed, homicidal killer should not be able to amass a military arsenal, without showing his face or answering a single question, with the simple click of a mouse. If businesses choose to sell military-grade equipment online, they must screen purchasers to prevent arming people like James Holmes.
The complaint was filed just days after a federal judge ruled that a jury should decide whether Cinemark Inc. should be held liable for failing to have security measures in place to stop the shooting. More than a dozen lawsuits were filed against Cinemark following the shooting and are scheduled to go to trial in February of next year. Sandy and Lonnie Phillips are represented by Jonathan Lowry, Elizabeth Burke and Kelly Sampson of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and Paul Rodney and Thomas Stoever Jr. of Arnold & Porter LLP. The case, in Arapahoe County District Court, is a very important case and one that will be watched closely.
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