Two attorneys, nationally recognized for their successful lawsuits following mass shootings, were in Maine Monday night to promote civil litigation as a way to achieve justice for Lewiston shooting victims and their families.
In the absence of action from political leaders, the two say the courts are the best way to upend the status quo.
Over the last six years, Texas has seen more mass shootings than any state in the country.
“El Paso, 22 people killed. Uvalde, 19 children killed. Sutherland Springs, 26 people killed,” says Attorney Jamal Alsaffar, a 5th generation Texan based in Austin who also lists Santa Fe High School, Dallas and Odessa as scenes of oher mass shootings in Texas in just the past six years alone.
Alsaffar filed a lawsuit on behalf of the victims of the 2017 church shooting in rural Sutherland Springs. And, earlier this year, despite skepticism it could be done, a settlement was reached for more than $144 million.
“Frankly, we were just upset and had enough of people in power and people with influence not doing anything. We were able to provide justice to those families. We were able to hold the federal government accountable for their many, many missteps, including the Air Force and the military, in preventing a known and dangerous person from getting weapons,” he says.
Alsaffar says there are “eerie similarities” between the gunman who killed 18 people in Lewiston last month and the Sutherland Springs gunman who killed 26: both were in the military, both had been hospitalized for mental health reasons after expressing threats and neither was entered in the FBI’s databank.
At a panel discussion in Lewiston, local attorney Ben Gideon welcomed Alsaffar and Connecticut attorney Josh Koshkoff to share their experience taking on the federal government and the gun industry that mass produces weapons designed for the battlefield.
“What we’re here to do tonight is to begin conversations,” Gideon says. “Potentially for months and perhaps for years. And that conversation is about how we can impact change in our community, because very sadly, this keeps happening over and over again, and nothing is done.”
Alsaffar and Koshkoff, Gideon says, are among a few attorneys who have succeeded in spite of the fact that there are immunity protections for defendants. For example, there’s the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act or PLCAA, passed by Congress nearly 20 years ago at the urging of the NRA. At the time, Koshkoff says gun manufacturers were facing a slew of lawsuits.
“And so the NRA went to Congress and the NRA said, ‘We are sad and we are scared. If we have to start paying for these lawsuits, we’re going to have problems selling guns. And if we have trouble selling guns your 2nd Amendment must mean nothing,'” he says.
PLCAA, Koshkoff says, was largely interpreted as granting gun manufacturers near total immunity. There were a few exceptions, but not until he brought a successful $73 million lawsuit against Remington for the mass shooting at Sandy Hook did gaps in the protection appear.
“The only thing that causes an industry to have any due regard for public safety is the threat of being held accountable, right? So an industry that thinks it can’t be sued can be a pretty dangerous industry, especially if they sell the world’s most dangerous product,” he says.
The lawsuit argued that marketing of the weapon violated Connecticut’s consumer law. Both attorneys say it will take time to determine who should be held accountable for Lewiston’s mass shooting. But until then, they say it’s important that public officials honor the victims by being transparent and sharing the truth.