The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence announced Jan. 16 that its Legal Action Project was filing a civil lawsuit, on behalf of the families of several victims of the D.C.-area sniper, against a gun dealer and manufacturer, saying they made it possible for the snipers to terrorize the Washington, D.C. region last fall.
The suit charges Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply with operating its gun shop in such a grossly negligent manner that scores of guns, including the high-power Bushmaster XM-15 E2S used by the snipers, inexplicably “disappeared” from the store. It alleges that John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, who were both legally prohibited from buying guns, could not have obtained the Bushmaster absent the gun shop’s negligence.
“This assault rifle, which served the snipers’ deadly purposes so well, did not fall from the sky into their hands,” said Dennis Henigan, director of the Brady Center’s Legal Action Project. “The snipers were aided and abetted by the reckless conduct of a gun shop that mysteriously ‘lost’ scores of deadly weapons and the manufacturer that supplied high-firepower combat guns to that dealer with no questions asked.”
The suit was filed in the Superior Court of Pierce County, Wash., on behalf of Denise Johnson, widow of Montgomery County bus driver Conrad Johnson, and on behalf of the family of James L. “Sonny” Buchanan, who was gunned down mowing the lawn outside of a Rockville car dealership.
According to the Brady Center, several other victims and families will be joining the lawsuit shortly, including Rupinder “Benny” Oberoi, the first sniper victim shot with the Bushmaster as he was closing a Silver Spring liquor store; the family of Premkumar A. Walekar of Olney, who was killed while pumping gas; and the family of Hong Im Ballenger, who was killed outside of a Baton Rouge, La. beauty supply store.
In addition to Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply of Tacoma, Washington, the suit names as defendants the store’s owners: Brian Borgelt and Charles N. Carr; Bushmaster Firearms, Inc., the manufacturer of the assault rifle; and the two sniper suspects themselves.
Brady Center lawyers are serving as co-counsel in the case with Seattle trial attorney Paul Luvera.
“We plan to show that less than three months after Bull’s Eye received the Bushmaster assault rifle in its store, the firearm ‘disappeared,’ traveled across the country and was used in the sniper attacks,” Paul Luvera said. “Such a swift ‘time-to-crime’ is highly indicative of grossly negligent sales and distribution practices on the part of Bull’s Eye and the gun industry defendants.”
The suit accuses the store of shoddy record keeping and inventory controls, as well as failure to promptly report missing guns to federal authorities and to adequately train its employees.
Bushmaster Firearms is charged with negligence in continuing to sell a high-firepower assault rifle, which the Brady Center contends is designed for combat use, through Bull’s Eye when prior government audits of the gun store revealed hundreds of missing guns. Both Bull’s Eye and Bushmaster also are charged with contributing to a public nuisance, said the lawyers.
The Brady Center also accused the gun industry of lobbying for congressional legislation that would block similar civil lawsuits. “It is unconscionable that the gun lobby is seeking to shut the courthouse doors to the innocent victims of the sniper shootings and to other victims of gun violence across the country,” said Brady Center President Michael Barnes. “This is special interest legislation at its worst. Any member of Congress who votes to immunize the gun industry should have to explain to these victims why they should be denied their day in court.”