HARTFORD, Conn. – The son of one of 10 people killed at a Colorado supermarket in 2021 is suing gunmaker Sturm, Ruger & Co. over how it marketed the firearm used in the massacre – following the litigation road map set by families of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims.
The lawsuit – filed Tuesday in state court in Connecticut, where Sturm, Ruger & Co. is based in Fairfield – accuses the company of marketing its AR-556 pistol in a “reckless” and “immoral” way that promoted its killing capability. It seeks an undisclosed amount of damages.
Nathaniel Getz, whose mother, Suzanne Fountain, was killed in the March 22, 2021, shooting at a King Soopers store in Boulder, filed the lawsuit – the first relative of the 10 victims to do so, said his lawyer, Andrew Garza.
“We filed the lawsuit to both to seek justice for the family of the victim, but also to hold them accountable and to serve a preventative function as well, to protect future victims,” Garza said in phone interview Wednesday.
“We believe they marketed it in a way that was meant to appeal to the militarization of young individuals, glorified lone shooters and, especially in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, we think they had a moral responsibility to do better,” he said.
Getz and representatives of Sturm, Ruger & Co. did not immediately return email messages seeking comment Wednesday.
The lawsuit comes only days before the two-year anniversary of the shooting as well as days before the two-year statute of limitations to file such a lawsuit in Connecticut expires. Garza urged relatives of the other victims to join the litigation.
The Colorado shooter, 23-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, is accused of opening fire outside and inside the store, killing customers, workers and a police officer who tried to stop the attack. Alissa, who has schizophrenia, has been ruled incompetent to stand trial. He is charged with murder and multiple counts of attempted murder.
Investigators, who have not disclosed a possible motive, said Alissa passed a background check to legally buy a Ruger AR-556 pistol six days before the shooting.
Lawsuits against gunmakers for the harm their products cause have generally been banned under a controversial 2005 federal law that shielded them from liability, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
The law, however, has exceptions. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that gunmaker Remington could be sued under an exemption by Sandy Hook families over how it marketed its Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Remington’s appeal of that ruling in 2019, and the company eventually settled with the families for $73 million.
The case was closely watched by gun control advocates, gun rights supporters and manufacturers, because of its potential to provide a road map for victims of other shootings to sue firearm makers.
Twenty first-graders and six educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.
The families of nine victims, as well as a survivor, sued Remington. alleging the company targeted at-risk males in advertising and product placement in violent video games. One of Remington’s ads featured the Bushmaster rifle against a plain backdrop and the phrase: “Consider Your Man Card Reissued.”
The lawsuit against Sturm, Ruger & Co. claims the company’s marketing materials included similar phrases such as “Anything else would be un-American.”
The version of the Ruger AR-556 used in the Colorado shooting was technically a pistol, but resembled an AR-15-style rifle. Getz’s lawsuit alleges the company made the pistol version to evade laws regulating rifles.