Family members of slain victims and survivors wounded in a 2017 mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, filed a consolidated lawsuit Feb. 26 against the national sporting goods retailer Academy Sports + Outdoors, where the shooter purchased the weapon and ammunition used in the attack.
Fifty-six individuals seeking more than $1 million each in damages claim Academy illegally sold the Ruger AR-556 rifle used in the Nov. 5, 2017, ambush that killed 27 men, women and children gathered for Sunday morning worship and injured 20 more.
Gunman Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, of nearby New Braunfels, Texas, purchased the firearm designed to hold 30 rounds of ammunition and an additional high capacity magazine designed to hold more than 15 rounds at an Academy store in San Antonio.
The sale of such high-capacity weapons is legal in Texas but was outlawed in Colorado after a mass shooting killed 12 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012. When Kelley bought his gun, he listed a Colorado Springs address on the Firearms Transaction Record and presented a state-issued ID to confirm his Colorado residency.
“A Texas gun dealer cannot legally sell a firearm and deliver to a citizen of another state if that sale would have not been legal in the purchaser’s state of residence,” the lawsuit says.
It claims Academy has for many years illegally sold assault rifles to out-of-state buyers in Texas regardless of whether or not such weapons are banned in their home state. So doing, the argument continues, the retailer “may have equipped an untold number of individuals” with illegal weapons, putting the public at risk.
Academy Sports + Outdoors, which operates more than 250 stores in 16 states, denies responsibility in the Sutherland Springs shooting.
Kelley passed a background check when he purchased the weapon, company representatives told the Dallas Morning News last September. Academy also claims federal law barring interstate sale of guns does not apply when the sale is made in person and that a Colorado law banning the sale of high capacity magazines to state residents does not apply to other states.
Academy Sports + Outdoors previously sought dismissal of a lawsuit related to victims at Sutherland Springs, but a judge in Bexar County District Court declined without comment, allowing the case to proceed.
Observers say the outcome could have broad impact on state and federal gun laws and/or victim’s rights. California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Virginia and Washington all have laws prohibiting the possession of high capacity assault-style weapons similar to the one used in Sutherland Springs.
Kati Wall, a plaintiff who lost both her parents in the Sutherland Springs shooting, said she, like many people living in rural Texas, supports the Second Amendment, but existing gun laws must be followed and enforced.
“By selling weapons illegally, Academy puts our communities and lives at risk,” she said in a press release announcing the consolidated lawsuit. “After all we’ve been through, we must stop this practice that continues to put our communities in danger.”
Last fall a U.S. district judge ordered consolidation of a number of federal lawsuits accusing the U.S. Air Force of negligence for failing to report convictions of the Sutherland Springs shooter that could have prevented him from buying a gun.