Everytown Law aims to curb gun violence with new litigation fund

Attendees examine a Remington shotgun at the National Rifle Association's (NRA) annual meeting, in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S., April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

(Reuters) - The nonprofit legal organization Everytown Law, which has pursued lawsuits on behalf of shooting victims against the gun industry, on Wednesday announced that it is launching a fund to support litigation aimed at curbing gun violence.

The announcement of the fund comes on the heels of a $33 million settlement offer by Remington Arms Co to nine families to settle lawsuits claiming that its marketing of firearms contributed to the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 people, including 20 children, were killed.

The Everytown Law Fund will begin with an initial $3 million commitment from Everytown's parent organization, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, and will prioritize funding legal actions that seek to address the impact of gun violence on Black, Latino and other marginalized communities, the group said.

Law firms, solo practitioners and legal services organizations will be able to apply for funding for legal action from the fund.

"A lack of resources shouldn't prevent gun violence survivors and their allies from holding reckless actors in the gun industry accountable," Everytown Law Managing Director Eric Tirschwell, said in a statement.

Gun manufacturers and retailers have consistently maintained that they cannot be held liable for criminal acts committed with weapons that are legally sold.

Everytown Law said its new fund would support a wide variety of different lawsuits, including claims by gun violence survivors seeking damages from gun manufacturers or retailers, claims over defects that lead to unintentional shootings, deceptive sales practices claims, challenges to laws that could increase gun violence and actions seeking to compel officials to enforce existing laws.

Such actions are in keeping with the work Everytown Law currently does. Last year, the group represented the cities of Chicago, San Jose, Columbia, South Carolina and Syracuse, New York in a lawsuit seeking to compel the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to step up enforcement against untraceable "ghost guns," assembled from incomplete kits that are not classified as firearms.

President Joe Biden's administration earlier this year proposed a rule that would expand the definition of firearms to make regulating ghost guns easier.

Everytown Law is representing Ohio cities Columbus and Dayton in a lawsuit accusing the state of "continuing and dangerous failure" to maintain databases used in criminal background checks for gun purchasers.

Other clients include Kansas City parents who sued a gun manufacturer, Jimenez Arms, after their son was fatally shot with one of its handguns. The company has since filed for bankruptcy.

Litigation against gun manufacturers and retailers has often been stymied by the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which generally shields the defendants from liability for crimes committed with their guns. However, some state courts have found that manufacturers can be liable in some circumstances.

"I think what we're seeing is there are ways to attack irresponsible business practices in the gun industry notwithstanding these artificial barriers that have been placed in the way of accountability," Tirschwell told Reuters, though he said legal barriers remain a challenge.

Read more:

Remington offers $33 million to families of Sandy Hook school shooting victims

U.S. cities sue ATF over untraceable 'ghost guns'

Ohio cities sue to make state maintain database for gun background checks

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.