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Texas church massacre victims can sue store where mass shooter bought gun, judge says

First responders at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas on Nov. 5, 2017. (Edward A. Ornelas/San Antonio Express-News/Zuma Press/TNS)

The Texas gun store that sold the assault rifle used in the 2017 Sutherland Springs church massacre lost its bid Monday to have a lawsuit over the sale dismissed.

Bexar County District Court Judge Karen Pozza issued a ruling saying survivors and relatives who lost loved ones in the mass shooting can move ahead with their suit against the dealer, Academy Sports + Outdoors.

The lawsuit alleges Academy conducted an illegal sale when it allowed Devin Kelley, 26, to purchase the Ruger assault-type rifle that he later used to kill 26 people and injure more than 20 others at First Baptist Church on Nov. 5, 2017.

“I think the judge made the right decision. This case isn’t about gun control or new laws, it’s about enforcing laws already in the books,” Houston lawyer Jason Webster, who represents the plaintiffs, told the Daily News on Monday.

He said Kelley presented a Colorado state ID when he walked up to purchase the firearm in the San Antonio store in April 2016 — and it was up to Academy to know the weapon was illegal in Colorado because the model had a 30-round magazine.

Colorado prohibits the sale of assault rifles with magazine capacities greater than 15 rounds, the lawyer said.

“When Kelley presented with a Colorado Springs address, and when he does this in San Antonio, the dealer is required under federal law to know and comply with Colorado state laws,” Webster said.

“The court saw ample evidence that Academy violated the law by allowing Devin Kelley to purchase his firearm when he did,” the lawyer said. “He shouldn’t have had this rifle to commit this crime.”

Police previously said Kelley used the 30-round Ruger rifle when he stormed the small-town search in rural Sutherland Springs and unleashed what was later dubbed the worst mass shooting in Texas history.

Kelley, a military veteran, took his own life after the deadly rampage.

Attempts to reach Academy’s lead lawyer in the case, Janet Militello, were not immediately successful Monday.

The Dallas Morning News reported Militello argued last week that Academy bears no responsibility for the “horrible tragedy.”

In a court filing, Militello argued that The Protection of Lawful Commerce In Arms Act “expressly forbids plaintiffs from even filing lawsuits like this one, which attempt to hold law-abiding firearm sellers liable for the purchaser’s later criminal or unlawful misuse of the firearm.”


© 2019 New York Daily News

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