Uvalde Parents Are Coming for the Maker of the AR-15 That Killed Their Kids

One family has retained a lawyer who helped Sandy Hook families get a $73 million settlement from Remington Arms.
A Twitter post of Daniel Defense, the company that made the assault rifle used to kill 19 young children and two teachers in Uvalde, on May 25, they day after the massacre.
 Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

Will the gunmaker behind the AR-15-style rifle used in the Uvalde school massacre be forced to pay out millions? 

Some in Uvalde are gearing up to find out. 

Victims and family members tied to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, where an 18-year-old shooter killed 19 children and 2 teachers and wounded 17 others, are taking tentative first steps toward launching lawsuits against gunmaker Daniel Defense, the company that made the shooter’s AR-15-style rifle.

Advertisement

The result could easily rank among the most important legal battles over mass-shooting in U.S. history, and become an epic fight over how much responsibility should fall on companies that make weapons used by mass killers. 

The parents of a 10-year-old child killed in Uvalde sent a letter last week to Daniel Defense seeking information about how the DDM V7 rifle used in the attack was marketed, and whether the company had any communication with the shooter on social media or elsewhere.

“My purpose for being now is to honor Amerie Jo’s memory,” said Alfred Garza III, the father of Amerie Jo, in a statement. “She would want me to do everything I can so this will never happen again to any other child. I have to fight her fight.”

Emilia Marin, a Robb Elementary School staffer who saw the shooter arrive as she was carrying food into the building for an end-of-school-year party, has filed a pre-lawsuit petition with the company. In Texas, parties can gather evidence before actually filing a suit. 

Marin’s lawyer said they want to know whether the company changed its marketing after four Daniel Defense AR-15-style rifles were found in the arsenal of the Las Vegas shooter who killed 60 people and injured 411 more at a music festival in 2017, in the worst mass-shooting in U.S. history.

Advertisement

Marin suffered psychological trauma in the wake of the incident in Uvalde, according to her attorney, Don Flanary. 

“She is not well psychologically. She is a wreck,” Flanary told NBC. “She’s been to her doctor and she’s continuing to receive treatment. It’s going to be a long road ahead, as it is for so many other people.” 

Daniel Defense posted a statement on its website declaring itself “deeply saddened” by the Uvalde massacre, and promising to cooperate with all federal, state, and local law enforcement investigations. 

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and community devastated by this evil act,” the statement said. The company didn’t return a request for comment. 

Now, the family-owned business based in Georgia is facing increasing scrutiny, in part for what the New York Times dubbed its “aggressive, boundary-pushing style of weapons marketing and sales.” The company’s advertisements have invoked video games like Call of Duty, and have featured Star Wars characters and Santa Claus, with messages likely to appeal to teenagers, according to the Times

Advertisement

The Uvalde shooter purchased two rifles only days after his 18th birthday. 

Examining Daniel Defense’s marketing practices will be a key point of interest for Garza’s legal team as they consider their path forward, said an attorney representing Garza, Josh Koskoff. 

“The gun industry is marketing to younger people. If you just see the marketing, you know who they’re trying to reach,” Koskoff told VICE News in an interview. “If you know any teenagers, you know that’s not a reliable demographic for selling the military’s leading combat weapon.”

Any lawsuit against a gunmaker will be an uphill battle. But a recent precedent suggests a multi-million dollar breakthrough is at least possible: In February, nine Sandy Hook families managed to nail down a $73 million settlement from Remington Arms, the maker of the AR-15-style Bushmaster rifle used in the school shooting that killed 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut, including 20 children. 

Koskoff, now working for Garza in Uvalde, was part of the victorious Sandy Hook legal team. 

“Daniel Defense has said that they are praying for the Uvalde families. They should back up those prayers with meaningful action,” Koskoff said in a statement, urging the gunmaker to share the requested marketing details and communications. “If they really are sincere in their desire to support these families, they will provide the information.”

Advertisement

Gunmakers are generally protected from civil liability when their customers use their products to commit crimes thanks to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which was passed by Congress in 2005. At the time, gunmakers faced a rising tide of lawsuits from activists and local governments accusing them of creating a “public nuisance” by selling guns. 

The law is “one of those nifty corporate giveaways Congress is so good at crafting when lots of lobbying dollars and business interests are in play,” according to Tim O’Brien, columnist for Bloomberg News.

There are built-in exceptions to the wide-ranging protections in the law, however—including for improper sales and marketing practices. Gun manufacturers and dealers can be held liable for damages resulting from defective products, or for “negligent entrustment” when they had reason to know the weapon might be used in a crime. 

Only two “negligent entrustment” lawsuits had ever made their way to a jury trial as of 2018, however, according to one review of legal records

Koskoff recalled encountering skepticism before his team secured the $73 million settlement for the Sandy Hook families—in what turned out to be the largest payout ever by a gunmaker over a mass shooting. 

“When we filed the Sandy Hook case, the best support we got was, ‘Good luck with that!’” Koskoff said. 

“That legal victory shattered a perception of invulnerability by the industry,” he said. “And that was important, because if you feel like you can’t be held accountable under the law, you act accordingly.”

Follow Greg Walters on Twitter.