The parents of a teen injured during the mass shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan last year are suing the dealer that sold the handgun used to kill four students and injure seven others.
The Oxford Community School District and school officials are also named in the lawsuit. Mary and Matthew Mueller, the parents of the injured child, say the school district and its employees failed to address serious concerns about the shooter, Ethan Crumbley. More than a dozen students have already filed a similar federal lawsuit against the school district and some of the high school's employees.
This new lawsuit filed by the Mueller family seeks damages and remedies from the school district, its employees and Acme Shooting Goods, LLC. They say their son, referred to as only "E.M." in the lawsuit, suffered a gunshot wound to his hand and face, causing serious injuries and long-term damage.
This is the first federal lawsuit filed in relation to the shooting at Oxford High School that brings claims specifically against Acme Shooting Goods, the weapons dealer.
"While we will live with the horror of that day forever, he will live with the physical pain and trauma of being shot for the rest of his life. That pain was avoidable," Matthew and Mary Mueller said in a statement. "We are bringing this suit so that the failures both in the sale of this gun and at our school which allowed this to happen can never happen again. No family or community needs to experience this pain and no child should have to live with it for the rest of their life."
The Oxford Community School District and Acme didn't immediately return NPR's request for comment.
Lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers are tough to pursue thanks to a federal law that provides broad legal immunity to many players in the firearms industry. It shields them from liability for a wide range of complaints at the federal and state levels, according to Giffords, a gun control advocacy organization.
This hasn't stopped families of shooting victims and gun control advocacy groups from suing gun-makers and dealers anyway. The gun control group Brady, whose legal arm is behind the Mueller case, along with the law firm Sommers Schwartz, has litigated cases in 40 states against weapons dealers and manufacturers over the years, according to senior counsel Erin Davis.
Several families in Connecticut who lost children in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School successfully sued the gun-maker Remington. This year, Remington's four insurers agreed to pay $73 million as a result of the suit. That case claimed the gun-maker marketed the gun in such a way that it violated the state's consumer law and prioritized profits over public safety.
At least one parent whose child died in the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, has started the process of suing the gun-maker Daniel Defense, which produced the AR-15-style rifle used in the massacre.
Davis told NPR that she believes Brady has built up "a strong body of case law" in other legal battles that gives this lawsuit a strong probability of success.
The suit filed by the Mueller family alleges negligence on the part of both the school district and Acme. It claims the dealer sold the gun to Crumbley's father "despite actual and/or constructive knowledge that the father was engaging in an illicit straw purchase ... and that the Acme gun was intended for the shooter."
A straw purchase is when an individual purchases a gun on behalf of someone else while falsely claiming the purchase is for themselves. According to the lawsuit, both Crumbley and his father made comments in Acme's store that indicated the gun was actually intended for the then-15-year-old. The sales clerk sold the gun to the father anyway.
Crumbley's parents have since been criminally charged in the Nov. 30, 2021, attack. Crumbley has been charged with murder and other crimes, and he plans to pursue an insanity defense at trial. His parents — James and Jennifer Crumbley — have each pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter.