Poway Synagogue Shooting Victims Sue Smith & Wesson, Gun Shop And Shooter
Victims of a shooting at the Chabad of Poway last April are now suing the alleged gunman and the firearm manufacturer who made the AR-15 rifle used in the attack.
One person was killed and three people were injured in the shooting that prosecutors are saying was fueled by antisemitism.
The complaint filed in San Diego Superior Court on Monday named multiple defendants, including the alleged shooter John T. Earnest, his parents, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the store where the gun was purchased (San Diego Guns) and Smith & Wesson, which made the rifle.
The lawsuit said the incident was foreseeable and could have been prevented.
"As a result of defendants’ actions and/or inaction, the shooter used a Smith & Wesson AR-15 style rifle to engage in a mass shooting on April 27, 2019 — a military-style assault on the worshippers at the Chabad of Poway synagogue," the complaint said.
Legal analyst Dan Eaton said defendants' attorneys will argue it is not so black and white.
"Because at the end of the day this was the act of one very troubled young man," Eaton said.
The former rabbi of Chabad of Poway, Yisroel Goldstein, is the lead plaintiffs. He lost a finger during the shooting. Goldstein and others are being represented by Brady United, a group whose mission is to end gun violence.
Eaton said Brady's involvement in the suit is key.
"They’re very expensive to litigate and they’re very hard to prove," Eaton said of cases against gun manufacturers. "That’s why you see the involvement of gun control advocates."
The suit alleges Smith & Wesson along with San Diego Guns, "Enabled the Shooter to transform his dark fantasies into a lethal reality by designing, marketing, distributing, and ultimately placing in the shooter’s hands a highly lethal weapon — the rifle."
Specifically as it related to Smith & Wesson, the plaintiffs argue their marketing drove the shooter to purchase an AR-15.
"In a way that attracted impulsive young men with military complexes who were particularly likely to be attracted to the unique ability of AR-15 style weapons," the complaint reads.
The suit is targeting the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and San Diego Guns, because the hunting license authorities say Earnest used to buy the gun was not valid.
"(They) sold the rifle to the teenage shooter in the absence of a valid hunting license, which is legally required in California to complete the sale of an AR-15 style rifle to an individual, under 21 years old," the complaint says.
Plaintiffs also argue the attack caused emotional distress.
Eaton thinks the case will be an uphill battle. For one, he said there are protections for gun makers.
"To allow gun manufacturers to continue to sell their products without fear of massive liability," he said.
Plaintiffs are seeking compensation, but also ways to prevent a shooting like this from happening again. Eaton said the case could take years to get a final resolution.
KPBS reached out to Smith & Wesson and San Diego Guns for comment but did not hear back. San Diego County Gun Owners Political Action Committee, which represents firearm stores, issued a statement calling the shooting horrific and the lawsuit frivolous.
"The lawsuit they are filing, in part, is asinine in that they are blaming the gun shop and manufacturer for the actions of a highly disturbed monster," said Michael Swartz, executive director of San Diego County Gun Owners. "The gun shop followed state law to the letter and communicated with the California Department of Justice flawlessly."
A California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesperson said the agency does not to comment on pending litigation.