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Families of Victims In Aug. 31 Mass Shooting Sue Gun Manufacturer And Supplier For Over $1 Million

By Public Radio Staff

As the first anniversary of the Aug. 31 shooting in Odessa approaches, lawyers representing family members of two victims are filing suit against an alleged weapons dealer and a gun parts manufacturer.

The families of 15-year-old Leilah Hernandez and Joseph Griffith, who was 40, are asking for over $1 million in damages. John Sloan, whose law firm is based in Longview, Texas, is representing the families. The suit claims the gun manufacturer negligently sold “multiple firearms to an unlicensed dealer of weapons.”  

Before the suit was filed Friday, the victims' families told members of the press that the lawsuit isn’t about the money — it’s about sparking gun reform.

“I can’t watch any more kids being killed in schools, any more people being slaughtered in churches or synagogues," said Griffith’s sister, Carla Bryne.

“We refuse to sit back while Congress sits on legislation that would provide universal background check on gun sales, including and especially private," said Bryne.

When announcing the lawsuit on Thursday afternoon, Slon said the two victims' families "want to hold accountable those who manufactured, profited from, and supplied the AR-style weapon used in the shooting."

“They hope to impose accountability for the negligence of the defendants that might prevent future gun violence and future gun deaths in Texas and beyond," said Sloan.

The gunman in the shooting, which left seven people dead and over 20 injured, obtained his AR-style rifle through a private sale, according to reporting by the Associated Press which Marfa Public Radio later confirmed. The private sale allowed 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator to bypass a federal background check that had blocked him from getting a gun in 2014.

Marcus Anthony Braziel, the Lubbock man who allegedly sold Ator his weapon in 2016, had dozens of weapons seized last year following the shooting. In July, the Associated Press reported that there isn't a criminal case against Braziel being pursued, but the Justice Department is seeking to permanently possess 29 pistols, rifles and gun parts taken from Braziel’s Lubbock home.

The lawsuit also names Kentucky-based Anderson Manufacturing, which Sloan says sold firearms and gun parts to Braziel.

“Anderson Manufacturing was obligated to exercise reasonable care in selling firearms to as to never needlessly endanger the public by arming prohibited or otherwise dangerous purchasers,” Sloan said.

According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, gun manufacturers have largely been immune to lawsuits since 2005 when Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields gun makers, dealers and distributors from lawsuits after gun-related crimes.