Survivors of the mass shooting at a suburban Chicago Independence Day parade and family members of those killed filed 11 lawsuits Wednesday against the manufacturer of the rifle used in the attack, accusing gun-maker Smith & Wesson of illegally targeting its ads at young men at risk of committing mass violence.
The sweeping effort by dozens of victims of the Highland Park shooting, anti-gun violence advocates and private attorneys announced Wednesday is the latest bid to hold gun manufacturers accountable for a mass killing despite broad protections for the industry in federal law.
The group's strategy mirrors the approach used by relatives of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school killings, who in February reached a $73 million settlement with the firearm company that produced the rifle used in that attack. That was believed to be the largest payment by a gun-maker related to a mass killing and hinged on the families' accusation that Remington violated Connecticut consumer protection law by marketing its AR-15-style weapons to young men already at risk of committing violence.
“The shooter did not act on his own,” said Alla Lefkowitz, senior director of affirmative litigation for the gun safety organization Everytown. “What happened in Highland Park on July 4 was the result of deliberate choices made by certain members of the industry.”
Liz Turnipseed is among the Highland Park survivors alleging that the gun manufacturer, the accused shooter, his father and two gun sellers bear some responsibility for the attack.
In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Turnipseed said before the shots rang out she was enjoying the parade with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, pointing out instruments in the high school band. Turnipseed fell to the ground after being shot in the pelvis and remembers seeing her daughter’s stroller on its side and asking her husband to get their daughter to safety.
Turnipseed said she required weeks of intense wound care, expects to need a cane for some time and is in therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. She also was forced to delay an embryo transfer scheduled for July 12; her doctors now fear it’s dangerous for her to become pregnant.
Despite her physical and emotional burdens, the Highland Park resident became determined to speak for those who did not survive mass shootings in the U.S., particularly the 19 children and two teachers killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in late May.
“I had a unique opportunity to help put a real face on what these guns do to people and ... give it a first-person perspective,” Turnipseed said. “Because there aren’t that many of us that survive. Because they’re that deadly.”
Representatives for Smith & Wesson, based in Springfield, Massachusetts, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday.
Survivors of the attack and family members of those killed spoke to reporters Wednesday, highlighting the dramatic changes in their lives since the shooting and repeatedly blamed the firearms producer for enabling the shooter.
Family members of three of the seven people killed in Highland Park — Stephen Straus, Jackie Sundheim and Nicolas Toledo — are among those suing. The family of a fourth victim, Eduardo Uvaldo, has retained the attorneys who handled the Sandy Hook case.
“The pain, loss and grief that we must endure is never ending,” Jon Straus, one of Straus' two sons, said at an event announcing the suits. “This time it was our family. Next time, it could be yours.”
Prosecutors have said Robert E. Crimo III admitted to the parade killings once police arrested him hours after the attack. Authorities have identified Smith & Wesson's M&P 15 semiautomatic rifle as the weapon he used to fire on the parade.
Turnipseed argues that Smith & Wesson ads mimic the shooter's-eye view popularized by video games, use misleading imagery of apparent military or law enforcement personnel and emphasize the M&P 15's combat features — all with a dangerous appeal to “impulsive young men with hero complexes and/or militaristic delusions.”
Advertising text also billed the rifle as “capable of handling as many rounds as you are" and providing “pure adrenaline.” One ad shows the M&P 15 on a dark background above the phrase “kick brass” in a bold red font and capital letters.
“The advertisements and marketing tactics described above demonstrate that Smith & Wesson knowingly marketed, advertised, and promoted the Rifle to civilians for illegal purposes, including to carry out offensive, military style combat missions against their perceived enemies," her attorneys argue.
Ari Scharg, an attorney with the Chicago-based firm Edelson PC representing Turnipseed, said lawyers for the Highland Park victims are determined to go further by getting their cases before a jury.
“There's certainly a long path, and it's an uphill battle,” Scharg said. “But I think this is the most important case in the country being litigated right now ... and we're going to see it through to the end.”
The victims also are suing the accused gunman for assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress and his father, Robert Crimo Jr., for negligence, particularly for sponsoring his son’s application for a state firearms license in 2019 within months of the 19-year-old attempting to kill himself and threatening family members. Two gun sellers are accused of violating bans on assault weapons in Highland Park and the accused gunman's home town of Highwood.
Crimo III faces 21 counts of first-degree murder, 48 counts of attempted murder and 48 counts of aggravated battery, representing those killed and wounded during the parade in Highland Park.
Lake County prosecutors have not filed any criminal charges against his father and have repeatedly declined to discuss the possibility that Crimo Jr. could be charged in the future.
An attorney for Crimo Jr. did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Crimo III is represented by the Lake County public defender’s office, which does not comment on ongoing cases.