Washington, D.C., December 8, 2020 – Survivors and families of people killed in a November 2017 rampage shooting that left eight crime scenes, including a California elementary school, have brought the nation’s first two civil lawsuits by victims against the “ghost gun” industry. As a result of recent developments, the two cases, filed separately in California state courts, are now proceeding to an important stage of the litigation in preparation for a possible 2021 trial date.
Brady, the national gun violence prevention organization, and Orrick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe, LLP, a prominent international law firm, are representing the plaintiffs in both cases. They’ve sued 13 defendants who make and sell unregulated “ghost gun” kits that can be used to assemble fully-functioning, untraceable guns in minutes. In advertising their gun kits for sale in California, many of the defendants emphasize that no Brady background check or registration is required – unlike when buying a gun. Likewise, the gun parts sold in the kits are not serialized. As a result, identifying the purchaser of a gun assembled from such a kit can be impossible. In November 2020, plaintiffs’ legal team was able to complete service on the defendants and the cases are now pending consolidation and trial scheduling, which could be set before the end of 2021.
The cases were filed in Orange County and San Bernardino County Superior Courts by the families of Michelle McFadyen, Diana Steele, Daniel Le, and Joseph McHugh, who died in the shooting, and Francisco G. Cardenas, who suffered serious injuries.
Brady Legal Chief Counsel and co-counsel for the plaintiffs, Jonathan Lowy, stated:
“We shouldn’t have to say that those convicted of violent felonies and other people who are legally prohibited from possessing guns should not be able to possess guns. But some businesses put us all at risk by selling to virtually anyone DIY kits that can then be easily assembled into illegal, deadly, and untraceable assault weapons, all without a Brady background check or paper trail. Unregulated ghost gun sales can arm dangerous prohibited purchasers, fugitives, traffickers, and domestic abusers, and they are becoming the criminals’ weapon-of-choice. People and businesses must be held accountable when they choose to put profits over people, and innocent people are hurt or killed as a result.”
Co-counsel Amy Van Zant, a Silicon Valley-based Orrick partner heading a pro bono team on the cases, stated:
“Californians have a right to bear arms and the state’s background checks, registration laws, and assault weapons bans are designed to ensure that those rights are exercised safely. The ghost gun industry negligently and knowingly markets its gun kits to people who cannot legally purchase and possess such weapons in California. Guns made from ghost gun kits usually have no serial number. As a result, the finished guns are almost always untraceable, making them a nightmare for law enforcement. Companies who evade state and federal gun safety laws in order to market gun kits to people who cannot lawfully buy or possess guns in California should face liability for their negligence.”
The proliferation of ghost guns has become a major challenge for law enforcement public safety efforts. According to the ATF, some 30 percent of all guns recovered from crime scenes in recent years are untraceable ghost guns made from the kits at issue in the pending cases. In fact, many of the defendant manufacturers expressly market their ghost gun kits as a means to escape tracking by law enforcement.
Beyond the law enforcement tracing issues, use of ghost guns poses a serious risk to the citizens of California. Ghost guns, particularly AR-15-style ghost rifles, have been used in multiple violent crimes in the state, including the June 2019 fatal shooting of Sacramento Police Officer Tara O’Sullivan and the August 2019 fatal shooting of California Highway Patrol Officer Andre Moye, who was killed by a convicted felon who secured an AK-47-style ghost rifle.
Several states’ Attorneys General have sought to address the problem of ghost guns through regulatory changes and industry-facing legal action. For example, California’s and New York’s Attorneys General have called on ATF to reclassify ghost guns as “firearms” under the federal Gun Control Act. In September 2020, the California Attorney General, joined by the Giffords Law Center, sued to compel the ATF to classify and regulate unfinished gun kits as guns in a case arising from a November 2019 school shooting in Santa Clarita. Additionally, 21 states have sued the Trump Administration over loosening restrictions on 3D blueprints used to print 3Dguns, another type of ghost guns.
Representing plaintiffs against the ghost gun companies are Jonathan Lowy, Christa Nichols, and Tanya Schardt of Brady Legal, and Amy Van Zant and Shayan Said of Orrick. Also representing the plaintiffs are Douglas Mumford, Catie Barr and Brandon Storment of Barr & Mudford, and Ben Rosenfeld and Gerald Singleton.
About Brady Legal:
Brady has represented victims of gun industry negligence for over 30 years and has won more than $60 million in settlements and verdicts in cases brought by Brady on behalf of victims and survivors. Brady has also won landmark precedents holding that gun companies can be held legally responsible for the damage caused by their irresponsible business practices and has forced gun dealers and manufacturers to reform their practices to prevent sales of guns to dangerous people. Brady has litigated in over 40 states, and won victories in the Supreme Courts of Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Alaska, and appellate and trial courts in California, Florida, Mississippi, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and other states.