Texas Supreme Court Strikes Down Lawsuits Over Sutherland Springs

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

The 2017 shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs is the worst church shooting in American history, but without an armed citizen named Stephen Williford, it’s possible the killer would have found another place to unleash his evil rage and the number of those killed and injured could have been even higher.

The thing is, the killer shouldn’t have been able to legally purchase his firearms. With his history, he should have been blocked. Unfortunately for all those people in that church, it didn’t work that way.

Unsurprisingly, lawsuits were filed. Now, though, the Texas Supreme Court has tossed those lawsuits.

The Texas Supreme Court dismissed four lawsuits filed by survivors and the families of those killed during a 2017 mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, ruling Friday that the retailer who sold the rifle conducted the required background check on a dishonorably discharged Air Force member who later used it to gun down 26 people.

Academy Sports + Outdoors cannot be sued in connection to the 2017 mass shooting under the federal Protection Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which Congress passed in 2005 to protect firearm retailers and manufacturers from certain lawsuits seeking damages arising out of the criminal conduct of third parties, according to the opinion delivered Friday by Justice Debra H. Lehrmann.

The ruling points out that [the killer] reported a Colorado address and presented a Colorado ID when buying the rifle, prompting certain requirements imposed by the federal Gun Control Act on the sale of a firearm to an out-of-state resident. Academy “properly processed the required ATF Form 4473, which [he] completed under penalty of perjury at the time of sale,” Lehrmann wrote.

Academy also ran the required background check on [the killer] through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to the ruling.

“Although federal law disqualified [him] from purchasing a firearm at the time of the sale – based in part on his conviction in a 2012 court-martial for assaulting his wife and stepson and his dishonorable discharge from the United States Air Force – that disqualifying information was not in the system, which authorized Academy to ‘Proceed’ with the sale,” Lehrmann wrote. “Litigation against the Air Force for failing to collect, handle and report the required information is ongoing in federal court.”

In short, Academy did nothing wrong and had no liability with the shooting.

The thing is, any attorney worth a damn should have been able to see this. Had Academy ignored the law, then sure, a lawsuit might be warranted. They didn’t. They ran the NICS check and it came back clear. It was clear because of the Air Force’s mishandling of the relevant data.

However, that wasn’t what this lawsuit was about. This was about trying to punish Academy Sports for carrying out what they believed to be a lawful sale. They had no way of knowing Sutherland Springs would happen. Neither did almost anyone else, either.

In truth, this was about trying to punish retailers for selling guns at all.

See, the reason we got a Protection of Lawful Commerce of Arms Act was because anti-gunners wanted to try and sue stores and manufacturers into oblivion because of what someone else did with the weapons after they left the store. Unfortunately, there’s still nothing stopping people from trying to file suit anyway.

That’s what happened here.

The Texas Supreme Court made the right call, even without the PLCAA on the books, because it’s clear the store didn’t do anything wrong. Holding them responsible for not knowing information they had no way of obtaining is the kind of insane reasoning that only the anti-gunners could possibly consider.

Now, they’ve been smacked down by the state of Texas.

As they should have been.

Jul 31, 2021 8:30 AM ET