Parents of Aurora Shooting Victim Ordered to Pay $203,000 — for Exercising Their Rights

Special Note: I apparently misread a reference during my research of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that led me to believe it was President Obama who had signed the bill into law within the last few years. It was actually signed into law on 10–26–2005 by President Bush. The incorrect and misleading references have now been removed.

Igor Volsky originally tweeted the link to the story this blog talks about; I’ve simply decided to expand further upon his tweets.

How many of you have heard of a Colorado law coded as HB 000–208? Until recently, I hadn’t, either. Interestingly enough, I have now run an extensive search across three search engines, and the full text of this bill is apparently not available anywhere on-line. This means I cannot provide actual language from the law as context. I’m not sure why there is apparently no publicly-available source for this document. If I happen to find one, I will update the post accordingly.

As it relates to the case in question, HB 000–208 is apparently a Colorado-specific supplement to a Federal law known as the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.” Signed by President Bush in 2005, the law appears specifically designed to grant immunity to the broader firearms and ammunition industry from perceived frivolous lawsuits, under the Second Amendment and various other statutes, from any lawsuits arising from the actions of individual parties (i.e. mass shootings). From Section 2, part b, paragraph 1:

To prohibit causes of action against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms or ammunition products, and their trade associations, for the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products or ammunition products by others when the product functioned as designed and intended.

Section 3 specifically orders the dismissal of any lawsuit covered by the Act:

(a) In General- A qualified civil liability action may not be brought in any Federal or State court.
(b) Dismissal of Pending Actions- A qualified civil liability action that is pending on the date of enactment of this Act shall be immediately dismissed by the court in which the action was brought or is currently pending.

The overall impact of this law is to grant blanket immunity from all forms of prosecution to the gun manufacturing industry and anyone associated with it, regardless of how their products are used and whether or not they failed to perform reasonable screenings of any individuals accused of committing gun-related crimes.

Colorado’s HB 000–208 ups the ante even further, by specifically requiring plaintiffs to pay all legal fees of the defendants in the event their suit is dismissed for any reason. This is what happened to Lonnie and Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica was murdered in the Aurora movie theater shooting in 2012. The couple sued Lucky Gunner, an on-line ammunitions dealer, for selling some 4,000 rounds of armor-piercing bullets to James Holmes prior to the shooting. Here, they described the injuries Jessica suffered (WARNING: EXTREMELY GRAPHIC):

One of the six, steel-jacketed bullets that killed her slammed through a theater seat, entered her left eye and left a five-inch hole in her face as it blew her brains out on to the theater floor. The other five specially designed bullets tumbled when they tore through her flesh and did devastating damage to both legs, arms and intestines.

The way in which Holmes obtained the ammunition — through an on-line sale — outlines one of the key weaknesses in our gun-obsessed culture. And yet — as we know all too well — the government has failed to enact any subsequent legislation to try and curb access to guns and destructive ammunition types, leading President Obama to finally take executive action. Unfortunately, the Phillipses have been ordered to pay legal fees amounting to $203,000 to Lucky Gunner. The judge’s words were scathing and patronizing:

It is apparent that this case was filed to pursue the political purposes of the Brady Center and, given the failure to present any cognizable legal claim, bringing these defendants [Lucky Gunner] into the Colorado court… appears to be more of an opportunity to propagandize the public and stigmatize the defendants than to obtain a court order.

It is unconscionable that a family suffering through such a senseless tragedy is now made by the law to suffer financially for simply exercising their constitutional rights to access the court system, and yet that is exactly what the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and HB 000–208 require. And, just to add insult to injury, Lucky Gunner intends to use their blood money to buffer the NRA even further:

Lucky Gunner wants to use blood money to fund the NRA and like-minded groups. See for yourself. Check out Lucky Gunner’s self-serving description of our case then click on “Head Here” (the green words at the end of Lucky Gunner’s last sentence) to find out how the money is to be distributed.

President Bush committed a grave mistake by signing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act into law, because it directly resulted in Colorado’s unconscionable complement to it. Whether Colorado would have gone on its own to create its own version of this had it failed is unclear, though it does seem likely. What this case demonstrates, though, is that the burden is now falling on the victims of gun violence instead of those responsible. This particular law not only grants immunity to the entire gun manufacturing and ammunitions industry, it gives them a specific incentive to not bother implementing more than the most meager safeguards allowed to prevent criminals from obtaining such weapons. The overall message is that gun rights trump human rights. As long as the NRA and its brethren get to reap the rewards of American panic and the associated gun sales, all is right with the world. It’s up to the rest of us — and, increasingly, the victims of gun violence and their loved ones — to suffer and pick up the pieces, hoping that we won’t become the next statistics in the NRA’s favorite blood sport.

If anyone can provide a link to the full text of Colorado’s law, HB 000–208, please tweet me or comment here; you will be credited accordingly.

Like what you read? Give Jason Fuller a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.