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Why worshippers at a California synagogue can sue a gun-maker after a mass shooting

A California judge as ruled victims of the 2019 synagogue shooting can sue Smith & Wesson and a California gun store

A San Diego county sheriff’s deputy stands in front of the Chabad of Poway synagogue.
A San Diego County sheriff’s deputy stands in front of the Chabad of Poway synagogue, in Poway, Calif., on Sunday, April 28, 2019. Victims of the mass shooting at the synagogue can sue gun-maker Smith & Wesson and a California gun store that sold the semi-automatic rifle to the teenaged shooter, a judge has determined, according to The Associated Press.
Denis Poroy, Associated Press

Victims of a 2019 mass shooting at a San Diego area synagogue can sue gun-maker Smith & Wesson and a California gun store that sold the semi-automatic rifle to the teenaged shooter, a judge has determined, according to The Associated Press.

California Supreme Court Judge Kenneth J. Medel ruled Wednesday that worshippers and families of victims of the April 2019 Chabad of Poway synagogue shooting successfully argued that Smith & Wesson was aware “its AR-15-style rifle could be easily modified into a machine-gun-like or an assault weapon in violation of state law,” the AP reported.

  • Gun manufactures are typically protected from legal action if their weapons are used during a crime, but a 2005 federal law does allow lawsuits if the gun-maker “negligent or knowingly violated a state or federal law,” reported the AP.
  • Medel also said San Diego Guns, the gun shop where the then-19-year-old alleged shooter John Earnest purchased the rifle, could be sued because it should not have sold a long gun to Earnest because he did not have a hunting license — an exception of California’s law against residents under 21 owning a long gun, according to the AP.

What happened during the 2019 Poway synagogue shooting?

In the late morning of April 27, 2019, Earnest is accused of entering the Chabad of Poway synagogue during a Saturday worship service and shooting at the congregation, The Los Angeles Times reported at the time. One worshiper was killed and three others were injured in the shooting

  • The Los Angeles Times reported that Earnest, who is white, had published an antisemitic letter online and said he was “willing to sacrifice his future ‘for the sake of my people.’”
  • Earnest also wrote that he was responsible for a March 2019 mosque fire and that he needed to “protect the ‘European race,’” San Diego’s Fox 5 reported.
  • He faces both federal and state prosecutions for the alleged hate crime, the death penalty in the state case and, in early June 2021, made a conditional plea agreement in the federal case, according to Fox 5.