The parents of a woman killed during the Aurora movie theater shooting lost their bid Friday to hold ammunition sellers liable for the attack.
Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was one of 12 people killed in the July 2012 attack, had sued four online retailers that provided bullets, gun magazines and body armor alleged to have been used in the shooting. They accused the retailers of selling the items without concern about the mental fitness of the buyer or the items’ intended use.
The retailers “established and operated businesses which attracted — and catered to — dangerous persons such as (James) Holmes,” the couple’s complaint argued, “and yet they failed … to reasonably screen to prevent such dangerous people from obtaining arms.”
In an order issued Friday, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ruled state and federal laws protect ammunition sellers from such lawsuits. He dismissed the case.
The Phillipses’ lawsuit, Matsch wrote, tries “to have it both ways.” In spots, the lawsuit argues the retailers should have known that Holmes intended to use the large quantity of ammunition or other items he was buying for an attack. And in other parts, Matsch wrote, the lawsuit argues the retailers knew nothing about Holmes when they sold him the items.
“Looked at in the aggregate and retrospectively,” Matsch wrote, “it could be inferred that Holmes’ purchases were consistent with planning criminal activity but such an inference is unreasonable under the facts pleaded.”
The Phillipses had hoped to force the retailers to change their business practices so they had more information about their customers before making sales. Matsch said that decision is a political one and outside of his authority.
At least 12 other lawsuits remain pending in Denver federal court in connection with the Aurora theater shooting. Most are against the theater’s owner, arguing that it should have done more to protect patrons.
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