Families of Uvalde shooting victims suing gun manufacturer, Instagram, video game company

Families of Uvalde shooting victims suing gun manufacturer, Instagram, video game company
1 month 3 weeks 2 days ago Friday, May 24 2024 May 24, 2024 May 24, 2024 6:16 PM May 24, 2024 in News - Texas news
Source: https://www.texastribune.org/
Attendees browse the Daniel Defense firearms booth at the NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas on May 17, 2024. Credit: Azul Sordo for The Texas Tribune

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Several Uvalde families are suing Daniel Defense, the gun company whose AR-15 style rifle an 18-year-old gunman used to kill 19 children and two teachers and injure several others at Robb Elementary two years ago, lawyers said.

The family members of victims Friday also filed a separate lawsuit against California-based companies Meta — the parent company of Instagram and Facebook — and Activision, whose best-selling video game Call of Duty features Daniel Defense guns.

The lawsuits together will argue that the three companies marketed semi-automatic weapons to the Uvalde gunman before he was 18, accusing them of negligence and wrongful death. The shooter purchased firearms shortly after he turned 18 years old and then used one of those guns to carry out the deadliest school shooting in Texas history.

In Texas, 18-year-olds can legally purchase long guns such as rifles.

Josh Koskoff, an attorney representing the Uvalde families, says there was a direct line between the companies' conduct and the Uvalde shooting.

“Just 23 minutes after midnight on his 18th birthday, the Uvalde shooter bought an AR-15 made by a company with a market share of less than one percent,” Koskoff said in a statement. “Why? Because, well before he was old enough to purchase it, he was targeted and cultivated online by Instagram, Activision and Daniel Defense. This three-headed monster knowingly exposed him to the weapon, conditioned him to see it as a tool to solve his problems and trained him to use it.”

The lawsuits come on the two-year anniversary of the shooting.

Attorneys argue that Daniel Defense intentionally markets its weapons to adolescents and uses platforms including Instagram and first-person shooter games like Call of Duty to promote criminal use of their weapons.

They add that Instagram provides an unsupervised channel to speak directly to adolescent boys because of what attorneys say are flimsy and easily circumvented rules meant to prohibit firearm advertising to children.

The lawsuit against Daniel Defense is expected to be filed in Texas’ 38th District Court in Uvalde County on behalf of 31 family members of the victims. It accuses Daniel Defense of courting the shooter with marketing that lures adolescents into forming an attachment with its brand of AR-15s, particularly its flagship DDM4v7.

The lawsuit against Activision and Meta was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of approximately 45 family members of the deceased and injured victims. It accuses the gaming company of desensitizing young men to acts of mass violence and grooming them to seek out weapons like those featured in Call of Duty.An Activision spokesperson did not respond to questions about the allegations in the lawsuit but issued a statement expressing their condolences to the victims’ families.

“The Uvalde shooting was horrendous and heartbreaking in every way, and we express our deepest sympathies to the families and communities who remain impacted by this senseless act of violence,” the spokesperson said. “Millions of people around the world enjoy video games without turning to horrific acts.”

However, the Entertainment Software Association, which represents top publishers in the gaming industry, denounced efforts to blame video games for real-life acts of violence.

“We are saddened and outraged by senseless acts of violence,” said an association spokesperson. “At the same time, we discourage baseless accusations linking these tragedies to video gameplay, which detract from efforts to focus on the root issues in question and safeguard against future tragedies. Many other countries have similar rates of video gameplay to the United States, yet do not see similar rates of gun violence.

Representatives for Daniel Defense and Meta did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

While Instagram prohibits the marketing of firearms on its platform, the lawsuit claims Instagram fails to enforce firearm guidelines while rigorously enforcing other types of content guidelines.

The Uvalde families’ legal action appears to follow a similar playbook that Koskoff, a Connecticut attorney, successfully employed in his home state, where he helped victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting win a $73 million settlement in a lawsuit against the maker of the AR-15 style rifle used in that school shooting.

That settlement was widely considered a setback for the firearms industry, which has broad legal immunity from civil complaints. A 2005 law enacted by Congress shields gun companies from liability for crimes committed using their weapons. Koskoff’s team worked around that by successfully arguing that the gun company could be sued under a consumer protection state law, through an exception to the federal law.

Over the course of the Connecticut case, documents came out through the discovery process showing that gun company Remington has a licensing agreement with Activision. It is not clear if such an agreement exists between Daniel Defense and Activision.

A 2019 Instagram post from Daniel Defense says “Call of Duty Modern Warfare launched today” and shows a photo of the type of rifle used in the Uvalde shooting.

Other Instagram posts from Daniel Defense show videos of young men actively firing the company’s rifle. A 2020 Instagram post shows an image of someone taking a gun out of the trunk of their car and the words “refuse to be a victim.”

“Gun companies like Daniel Defense don’t act alone,” Koskoff said. “AR-15s were available when many of us were growing up, but we didn’t have mass shootings by kids. What has changed is that companies like Instagram and Activision do more than just allow gun companies to reach consumers–they underwrite and mainstream violence to struggling adolescents.”

This is not the first lawsuit families have filed against Daniel Defense. Uvalde victims’ families previously filed two lawsuits against the Georgia-based gun manufacturer, alleging that the company intentionally marketed its AR-15 rifles to young males in ways that “encourage the illegal and dangerous misuse” of its weapons.

Daniel Defense has sought to dismiss those lawsuits, which were filed in federal court and remain ongoing.

In the two years since the Robb Elementary School shooting, state and local law enforcement officers have been heavily criticized for their response to the massacre. Hundreds of law enforcement officers descended upon the school and waited for more than an hour to confront the gunman, who shot indiscriminately inside two fourth grade classrooms.

The botched response was the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice report and a scathing Texas House Committee investigation. A grand jury convened by Uvalde District Attorney Christina Mitchell could determine whether any federal, state and local officers are criminally charged.

On Wednesday, Uvalde families — represented by Koskoff — filed a lawsuit against 92 Texas Department of Public Safety Officers. They also announced a $2 million settlement with the city of Uvalde. During a press briefing on the day of that announcement, Koskoff foreshadowed that additional lawsuits would be filed on behalf of Uvalde families, including some lawsuits focusing on the time period before the shooting.

“There has been, appropriately, so much of a focus on law enforcement,” Koskoff told reporters earlier this week. “And, I think it’s appropriate to remember that they are at the end of the road.”

Koskoff noted that the 610-page DOJ report included “not a single page on why the shooting happened in the first place.”

The number of semi-automatic rifles, which include AR-15s, produced or imported in the U.S. have increased significantly since the 1990s. AR-15-style rifles weren’t used in mass shootings until 2007, according to a database kept by Mother Jones. In 2022, gunmen used an AR-15 rifle in 67% of the 12 massacres that year.

The AR-15 was designed in the late 1950s as a military-style rifle. Compared to its predecessors, the AR-15 fired bullets faster and with greater accuracy.

Officers who responded to the Robb Elementary School shooting feared the rifle and decided to not immediately confront the gunman, a Texas Tribune investigation found. Officers instead waited for a Border Patrol SWAT team based 60 miles away to arrive.

Uvalde families pushed the state Legislature to pass a bill to raise the minimum age for buying certain semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. That bill failed to pass in the Republican-controlled Legislature that has spent years loosening gun laws, making it easier for Texans to get guns in a state whose residents have a strong fealty to the Second Amendment.

Disclosure: Facebook has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/05/24/uvalde-shooting-lawsuits-gunmaker-instagram-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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