Uvalde families, staffers signal first legal action against gunmaker Daniel Defense after shooting

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The parents of a 10-year-old victim in the mass shooting in Uvalde, Tex., and a staff member at Robb Elementary School are taking their first steps toward legal action against the maker of the semiautomatic rifle used by the gunman in a massacre that killed 21 people, including 19 children.

Gunmaker Daniel Defense has come under scrutiny in the days since Salvador Ramos, 18, used a DDM4 rifle to unload hundreds of rounds of ammunition in the worst shooting at an American school in nearly a decade. The company has only released a statement expressing “our thoughts and our prayers” for the victims.

On Friday, Alfred Garza III and Kimberly Garcia — the parents of Amerie Jo Garza, a student killed in the shooting — sent a letter to Daniel Defense seeking information about the Georgia-based company’s marketing to teens and children, according to their attorneys. The letter sent to the gunmaker, obtained by The Washington Post, also asks Daniel Defense to provide communications with the Uvalde shooter.

“My purpose for being now is to honor Amerie Jo’s memory,” Garza said in a news release. “She would want to [sic] me to do everything I can so this will never happen again to any other child.”

A lawsuit has not been filed, but the letter is among the first signals that litigation could be coming related to the Uvalde shooting. One of Garza’s attorneys is Josh Koskoff, who represented the nine Sandy Hook families who won a landmark $73 million settlement against Remington Arms, the now-bankrupt maker of the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle used in the 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people — 20 of them children.

“Daniel Defense has said that they are praying for the Uvalde families. They should back up those prayers with meaningful action,” Koskoff said in a statement. “If they really are sincere in their desire to support these families, they will provide the information.”

The action from the slain 10-year-old’s family followed a similar move Thursday from Emilia Marin, a Robb Elementary staffer who filed a petition to investigate Daniel Defense’s marketing to young people and for company officials to sit for a deposition. Marin, an after-school-program worker who has been employed by the district for about 25 years, had closed a door she had propped open after she saw Ramos heading toward the school, her attorney, Don Flanary, told the San Antonio Express-News. The door was supposed to lock, but it did not, he said — allowing the gunman to be able to enter the school.

Flanary told The Post that Marin is facing severe and lasting psychological trauma from the attack — and is suffering after initial remarks by state authorities saying the door had been left open. The Texas Department of Public Safety eventually corrected an initial explanation of what happened, saying that Marin shut the door behind her but that it “did not lock as it should.”

“She’s not doing well because of the obvious effects of being in the center of the violence,” Flanary said. “If Daniel Defense specifically marketed to minors or unstable people or people they thought could be dangerous, that could be action that is so egregious that could cause them to have liability in the state of Texas.”

Marin’s filing, which could lead to a lawsuit, is asking for information on the company’s AR-15-style rifles, which were previously tied to another mass shooting — the 2017 attack at a country music festival in Las Vegas. Four of Daniel Defense’s rifles were found in the arsenal used by the gunman to kill 58 people and injure hundreds, in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

The petition is exploring whether Daniel Defense’s marketing changed at all in the years since.

After another massacre, one gunmaker maintains a familiar silence

A spokesperson for Daniel Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment. On Daniel Defense’s website, a message appears on the homepage acknowledging the May 24 shooting and how the gunmaker is “deeply saddened by the recent tragic events in Texas.”

“We will cooperate with all federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities in their investigations,” the message reads. “We will keep the families of the victims and the entire Uvalde community in our thoughts and our prayers.”

President Biden called on Congress this past week to take immediate action on gun control, including banning assault weapons and limiting high-capacity magazines. While the odds of such action passing in the divided Senate are not high, Biden, who noted that he respects the culture and tradition of lawful gun owners, said the Second Amendment is “not absolute.”

The Gun Violence Archive, a research group, says there have been more than 200 mass shootings in the United States this year. Mass shootings, defined as those in which four or more people — not including the shooter — are injured or killed, have averaged more than one per day so far this year. Not a week this year has passed without at least four mass shootings.

Several examples of Daniel Defense’s marketing show that the company has invoked Santa Claus, “Call of Duty” and “Star Wars” to appeal to minors, according to the New York Times. A day before the Uvalde shooting, Daniel Defense posted online an advertising photo of a toddler with one of its AR-15-style rifles. The photo shows a young boy holding the rifle on his lap, along with a caption referencing a Bible proverb: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

The caption ends with an emoji of two hands held together in prayer. The boy is sitting cross-legged in the photo and looking down at the firearm on his lap. The ammunition clip is lying separately on the floor.

Maker of Uvalde shooter’s rifle posted image of child with gun before massacre

While gun manufacturers are given broad immunity under federal law, exceptions exist for violations of state law. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act from 2005 shields gunmakers from facing liability for the “misuse of firearms by third parties, including criminals.” But in the case of Sandy Hook, attorneys successfully argued that Remington Arms had violated Connecticut consumer law in how the company marketed its firearms.

According the letter sent by Garza’s attorneys, the Uvalde father’s legal team is seeking information from Daniel Defense regarding marketing of AR-15 style rifles to children, advertisements on popular social media platforms like YouTube, any details pertaining to the “incitement and encouragement” on the “assaultive use” of the weapons, as well as any communications with Ramos.

Flanary told The Post that Marin’s filing against Daniel Defense in Texas state court is focusing on “marketing practices that are way out of the mainstream.” Such action is allowed under Rule 202, a unique Texas provision that allows broad power for people to investigate potential claims before they file a lawsuit in the state.

“We could have a hearing in a manner of weeks, but if Daniel Defense objects, they could drag their objections out for a significantly long period of time,” the attorney said. “Which is precisely why we decided to start this inquiry so quickly.”

It’s unclear whether the separate actions from Garza and Marin will lead others to join in potential lawsuits. He said that Marin has received many messages of support and has used the petition as a positive distraction from the deep grief she and others are processing.

“She just wants to do everything she can to try to make sure this never happens again,” Flanary said. “Even though it may be a long shot, it’s so worth it.”

Todd C. Frankel contributed to this report.

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