Legal Issues

Judge Orders Aurora Victim’s Family and Lawyers to Pay for Suing Gun Dealers

Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence Logo

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch of Denver has ordered the plaintiffs and lawyers who sued Sportsman’s Guide and Lucky Gunner LLC for selling supplies to alleged Aurora movie-theater shooter James Holmes, to pay the companies’ legal fees in the family’s unsuccessful civil suit against the firearms firms. Click here to download a copy of the suit.

Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence Logo
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence lost its suit against businesses that supplied ammunition and gear to alleged Aurora shooter James Holmes. Now Brady and the family who sued are on the hook for legal fees.
Sandy and Lonnie Phillips are the mother and stepfather, respectively, of Jessica Ghawi, one of the 12 members of the audience who was shot and killed in July 2012 at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises Batman movie at a no-guns-allowed theater—Theater 9 at the Century 16 multiplex (operated by Cinemark), located at the Town Center at Aurora shopping mall in Aurora, Colorado. Our previous coverage of how to survive such an event is here.

In 2014, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips sued Lucky Gunner (aka because the company sold Holmes ammunition. The suit also named Sportsman’s Guide, which sold Holmes a magazine and ammunition, according to court documents. Two other companies, BTP Arms, and Bullet Proof Body Armor, were also named. Click here to read our coverage of the initial suit lodged in September 2014.

However, Colorado has a law that shields guns and ammo dealers from civil liability if those products are used in crimes. Usually, companies can only be successfully sued if they sell a defective product or violate gun-sales regulations. The Colorado statute allows gun companies to recover fees and costs if they are sued and the companies win.

Similarly, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 shields gun companies at the federal level. The PLCAA was enacted as a result of gun-confiscation groups suing gun makers. These suits were intended to drive gun makers out of business by holding manufacturers and dealers liable for the criminal acts of third parties, who are totally beyond their control.

On March 27, 2015, Judge Matsch wrote in his order: “Plaintiffs [Sandy and Lonnie Phillips] have not pleaded facts that support their allegation that the federal statute was ‘knowingly’ violated. There is no allegation that the defendants had any knowledge of the allegations made about Holmes’s conduct and condition before the shootings. Plaintiffs issue with the sales is that the sellers had no human contact with the buyer and made no attempt to learn anything about Holmes. It is the indifference to the buyer by the use of electronic communication that is the business practice that this court is asked to correct. Notably, the plaintiffs have not sued the sellers of the firearms for non-compliance with the regulatory requirements applicable to over-the-counter sales.” He then “ordered and adjudged that plaintiffs’ claims as to all defendants and this civil action are dismissed.” Then he added, “Pursuant to C.R.S. §13-21-504.5, defendants Lucky Gunner and the Sportsman’s Guide are entitled to an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs to be determined after filing motions pursuant to D.C.Colo.L.Civ.R.54.3 within 14 days after entry of judgment.” On April 10, Sportsman’s Guide asked for more than $70,000 and Lucky Gunner petitioned for more than $150,000 to be awarded jointly against Sandy and Lonnie Phillips and their lawyers. Brian Platt, owner of BTP Arms, an online retailer that sold the gunman tear gas, has also requested nearly $24,000 for attorney fees and more than $33,000 in relief.

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips were represented by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C., and Arnold & Porter LLP in Denver. The lawsuit was filed in Arapahoe County District Court.

Opening statements in the Colorado theater shooting case start April 27.

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Comments (48)

  1. i also support the outcome, but not everyone is that fortunate!. I’ve had an FFL and been a smith for several decades now. I saw what Colt and Ruger went thru in the courts many yrs ago. My concern for the last 25 yrs has always been that “what if”. Im a gun builder and “what if” the person I make the weapon for uses it illegally, or is resold and than used illegally. This commerce act of 2005 is NOT always applicable and I know of two cases / friends since 2005 who have been sued because the weapon they sold was used illegally. They won BUT they were out the legal fees and are now out of business. They turned in their FFL. In another case individual used their weapon in a home defense and critically wounded both. Castle Doctrine kicked in, no charges filed, but the two home invaders/families sued and won a big judgment. Why ? – because individual was highly trained and used a target pistol. I agree the Brady Center is unscrupulous and took advantage of this family for political reasons. Extreme leftist liberal reasons. They see themselves losing this gun rights battle and are desperate.

    1. What if the custom gun you just built and sold to an individual explodes in his hands while he shoots it at the gun range… You, by your own choice, happen to choose a career field where you are open for more than just a frivolous law suit because someone killed an individual with a gun that you sold them. The reality in life these days is that we are all open to frivolous law suits and as long as the courts and or juries give in to them and side with them it isn’t going to end. The only thing you can do is to live life and not let the “what ifs’ bog your mind down, life is too short…

  2. congrats to Sportsman guide and others on winning the lawsuit, and i hope they are able to collect every penny from the gun grabbers.

  3. While I do like the outcome, I do think it is a long stretch to suggest the parents bring suit against the theater owner. and management..
    The cards stating why one will not enter an establishment is fine as long as one acts and behaves in a respectful anf civil manner while doing so.
    Holding up the line is not s hood wsy to win friends and poitively influence people.

  4. The problem with Colorado is that over the past two decades the state has become infested with vermin moving in from California Oregon and Washington. They have polluted the state government with their ultra left wing rhetoric and undermining the liberties of free Americans. They are nothing more than thugs tyrants that feel they can do as they please when they please with any worry of retaliation. The people should look into these carrier politicians to see if they aren’t taking bribes and cute backs from outside money.

    1. I beg to differ. My home state of Colorado used to be a great place to live until the lib-minded, socialists moved in from the aforementioned states. You may not be vermin, but your state is liberal and that is enough of an insult.

    2. MSG John, Washington State passed the worst written gun control law ever written. Do you consider that good?

  5. If they really wanted to sue somebody over the deaths and injuries caused by the shooter, they sued the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

    The THEATER provided the safe and secure FREE FIRE venue by openly declaring that ALL patrons wopuld be DISARMED and there would be no return fire from any of the victims.

    The THEATER CREATED the problem by publicly announcing the availability of their establishment as an “OPEN FIRE WITH NO RESPONSE” venue.

    I never did hear if the management refused to allow plice in with weapons.

    If so, WHY? That would be a violation of their own rules.

    IF they are so wiilling to allow one group of Citizens to enter WITH WEAPONS, why did they DISCRIMINATE against another group of CITIZENS?

    The named defendants should band together and sue the theater for creating the problem.

    It would be easy enough to prove their case in court.

    The end result would be the total lack of ‘gun free zones’ on any Private Property, with government facilites to fall soon thereafter under the threat of endless lawsuits.

  6. Amen! And, about time. Loser pays the winner’s court costs. Maybe that will slow down some of the bogus anti-gun lawsuits and civil suits against those defending themselves with a firearm! Nirvana? Probably not, but at least ‘one’ sign of common sense returning….

  7. Hey Galaxie_Man,
    Would you please put a link to the PDF on the business card sheet?
    I have been doing the same thing by pasting a post-it on the No Guns Allowed signs, that states that all the mass shootings in the US have the same thing in common.
    I.E. The places where they occurred did not allow guns. I list the shootings, and the number of victims and then the last sentence just says, “Think About It.”

    1. Is it possible to take the state off the back part of the card and just say “Concealed-Carry Permit Holders”
      For those of us that do not live in Missouri.

  8. This substantial financial loss against a family that has already suffered through so much anguish falls squarely on the shoulders of the Brady Center – which selfishly exploited this grieving family’s tragedy just to further their own personal anti-gun agenda.

    That disgusts me because the Brady Center and attorneys involved knew if they lost, that this family would be responsible for paying their fees as well as the other side’s attorney’s fees. It begs the question as to whether these snakes ever bothered to inform this family of such risks prior to filing the suit in their name.

    Fortunately for this family, I am certain that donations will cover the costs. However, less fortunate is that these snakes will still get paid and thus not be swayed from doing this again. At least this goes down as a very public loss for the Brady Center which now must explain to their donors why they took on such a losing cause which irresponsibly wasted donations to do so.

  9. I downloaded a free .pdf of a two-sided sheet that prints out a bunch of “business cards” that state you will respect their sign about no firearms and take your business elsewhere. The back side lists all the legal requirements you went through in order to carry, and lastly asks if they can say the same about the rest of their customers. I have a stack in each of my vehicles and will hand them out as necessary. Apparently none of the businesses I go to have such a sign, because I’ve yet to give one out.

    1. Our local gun rights group here in Virginia provides them too. I always have a few with me in case I see a guns prohibited sign. Don’t forget to go to Target and Starbucks, since they have prohibited guns on a corporate level.

    2. I usually tell the cashier to inform their manager that the policy guarantees that there will be an active shooter inside their business with the intention of killing as many people as possible.

      My final comment is “And the cashiers will be the first ones murdered.”

      Then I walk out the door.

    3. I like to hand the manager one of the little “No guns – no business” cards our local gun rights organization provides us, then tell him I don’t feel safe in his establishment because no one is legally armed. THEN I walk out.

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