Gun reform advocacy group, Everytown For Gun Safety, has announced the rollout of a fund to support legal cases related to gun violence, including those filed on behalf of families and survivors of shooting tragedies.
The fund, initially comprising $3 million, will be allocated to handpicked small and mid-size law firms, solo practitioners, and non-profit legal projects seeking to file lawsuits against prominent players in the gun industry, based on applications submitted to Everytown. In particular, the group is encouraging applications from legal entities that represent communities of color, and those affected by daily gun violence, which is often overshadowed by litigation surrounding mass shootings.
The fund is being launched by Everytown Law, the legal arm of the nonprofit, which launched four years ago and is now “the biggest team of litigators in the U.S. focused exclusively on advancing violence prevention through the courts,” says managing director Eric Tirschwell. The staff consists of 21, including 17 full-time litigators.
Everytown Law has worked since its inception on a diverse range of guns cases. It recently represented the parents of a man who died in a shooting, which resulted in a firearms dealer in Kansas City agreeing to stop selling guns as part of a settlement, Elsewhere, it won a case at the Ohio Supreme Court, in which it represented several parents of children whose school board had decided to arm teachers. And, last year it represented multiple cities in a lawsuit against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, for its failure to act stringently on untraceable “ghost guns” that are permeating urban areas.
In each of these cases, and in every case taken on by Everytown Law, its legal services are pro bono. In many cases, the plaintiffs may not have been able to take legal action due to lack of resources. “We know that certain communities in this country are disproportionately impacted by gun violence,” Tirschwell says. “And, it is often the case that those communities are under-resourced.” Because Everytown can’t take on all guns cases, of course, it’s starting the fund to help other law firms.
The legal group notes that it will accept applications for an array of reasons, including lawsuits against arms manufacturers and sellers for illegal activity or deceptive marketing practices; and ones against state or local officials to get them to enforce gun safety laws, or to challenge them to eradicate laws that increase the risk of gun violence—such as Stand Your Ground laws, which Tirschwell says have “had a particularly problematic impact on communities of color.”
The potential impact of using the courts as part of the gun violence prevention movement can be seen in this week’s settlement by Remington with nine families who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The former arms manufacturer offered them a settlement of $33 million (though, that was significantly less than the $225 million that the families were seeking). Though Tirschwell admits litigation is a slow process—the Remington case was filed in 2014—”We see this as a pivotal moment for gun safety in courts,” he says. “We’re seeing some real cracks start to emerge in the gun industry’s liability shield.”
Litigation, says Tischwell, is an important alternative avenue to accountability for gun manufacturers and other “reckless actors” in the industry, as federal legislative attempts have stalled for decades (Though he points to many recent local- and state-level successes.) Besides, the mere threat of legal action, and desire to avoid financial burdens, may also act as a motivator for the industry players to reform themselves. Everytown, of course, will continue to push for legislative action, but the legal route is a key element of the holistic approach. “If you look at successful movements of social change in this country,” Tirschwell says, “none has been successful without a strong strategy in the courts.”
Correction: We’ve updated this article to clarify the facts of the case in the Kansas City lawsuit.