In 2012, Jessica Ghawi was murdered by James Holmes during a showing of The Dark Knight. She was one of twelve victims who died that day. In the aftermath, Ghawi’s mother, Sandy, filed a lawsuit against Lucky Gunner, the business that sold Holmes his weapons. Last week, Mother Jones ran a story on Phillips, who complained bitterly that her case had been thrown out:
Working for the Brady Campaign became a flurry of media appearances and meetings with politicians, police, and survivors. The Brady leadership also encouraged Lonnie and me to sue Lucky Gunner, the dealer that sold the stockpile of ammo to Jessi’s killer. We agreed that dealers should have to take some responsibility. Shouldn’t they have to vet a buyer of military-grade weaponry? Or a buyer of bullets en masse? The primary goal of our lawsuit was to make the gun dealer change its business practices — at a minimum, to ask for proof of identity and do a background check.
The case would go on for three months, yet we never met the judge and never saw a courtroom. When the judge dismissed the suit, he said, “It is apparent that this case was filed to pursue the political purposes of the Brady Center.” In my opinion, the law that protects the gun dealers also bars people like us from our constitutional right to be heard.
Phillips’s lawsuit was dismissed under the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which was meant to protect the firearms industry from politically motivated lawsuits in which the plaintiffs claim that gun manufacturers and dealers were responsible for the criminal acts of third parties beyond their control. And rightly so. As the recent campaign of Hillary Clinton shows, there is a concerted attempt underway in this country to usher gun control in by the back door and turn innocent people into criminals. Lucky Gunner was no more responsible for the actions of James Holmes than Honda was for the actions of Abdul Razak Ali Artan when he attempted to use his Civic to kill pedestrians at Ohio State University, and it no more deserves punishment. There are already consumer protections that make gun manufacturers liable in rare cases when their products malfunction. Naturally, they do not apply to misuse.
Sadly for Phillips and her husband, by acting on the Brady Campaign’s advice to file suit against the store, they have seriously damaged their own finances. After they sold their home and belongings in Texas to attend Holmes’s trial in Colorado — and then to travel around the country in a camper to advocate more gun control — their frivolous lawsuit finished them off. In throwing out the case, the judge ordered the family to pay Lucky Gunner’s legal fees — which totaled more than $200,000. Harsh as it may sound, this was fair and correct decision considering the underlying facts and the lack of any substance in the case.
Why, one must ask, isn’t the Brady Campaign stepping up to help with the legal fees that the Phillipses have incurred on their behalf?
Alas, one can see Brady’s fingerprints all over this story — right down to the language that Phillips uses when discussing her preferred public policy. Pace Phillips, the rifle Holmes used is not “military-grade”; it is a semi-automatic rifle that requires squeezing the trigger for each shot. Buying ammunition in bulk is not unusual; as with any commodity, its prices fluctuate, and people who enjoy shooting for sport buy “en masse” when prices are favorable. As for the complaint that gun stores must “vet” a buyer, the store did just that, as both federal and state law require, and Holmes passed it.
For practical purposes, the Brady Campaign should pay the legal costs. For political purposes, it’s better for them if they do not. What better way for Brady to play up the martyr angle for the Phillipses than by decrying the gun dealer who “bankrupted” them for wanting said dealer to take some “responsibility” for their actions? In the long run, that’s a much better story for the Brady Campaign to weave than paying the legal costs associated with a failed lawsuit they encouraged.
— Jay Caruso is the assistant managing editor of RedState and a co-host of the politics and culture podcast The Fifth Estate.