Parents of Colorado shooting victim sue ammo dealers, face $200K court fees, bankruptcy

Police examine the car of James Eagen Holmes behind the theater where a gunman opened fire on moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado July 20, 2012. © John Wark
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against online ammunition companies in connection with the 2012 Aurora, Colorado theater shooting. The judge also ordered the plaintiffs, the parents of a shooting victim, to cover the defendants’ court costs.

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips told MSNBC that the judge’s decision leaves them facing possible bankruptcy. They said National Rifle Association lawyers defended the online gun retailer Lucky Gunner.

“It is their money that is behind this lawsuit. They are making an example of Sandy and I. They don’t want anybody to file a lawsuit against firearm dealers of any kind,” said Lonnie Philips, parent of Jessica Ghawi, who was killed by James Holmes in the Colorado theater shooting.

The federal law made it possible for them to do this. Colorado law made it possible for them to charge us $203,000 for a lawsuit that never really even got to discovery,” Lonnie Philips said. “We didn’t have a chance to lose our lawsuit because it was dismissed.”

Three years ago, Holmes opened fire during the screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises,” killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. He deployed tear gas, wore body armor and used several weapons to shoot at the audience. A jury found Holmes, now 27, guilty on all first-degree murder charges against him. The verdict means he could receive the death penalty.

The Phillipses filed lawsuits against four online ammunition companies like Lucky Gunner, as well as several other shooting and law enforcement supply companies which had sold Holmes ammunition. They argued that the way Lucky Gunner sold ammunition was “unreasonably dangerous and creates a public nuisance.”

The Phillips’ had the support of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, although the organization was not a plaintiff in the suite.

Sandy Phillips said it is important to remember that the lawsuit hadn’t been launched for monetary gain, but because it is scary for survivors and victims of gun violence to know that the online system allows these ammunition sales to take place.

[Holmes] bought steel-jacketed ammo that went through the chairs of the theater, went through the walls of the theater into the theater next door. [He] hit my daughter, who was hiding behind a seat…one bullet hit her in the head and created a five-inch hole…and blew her brains out,” Sandy Phillips said.

Phillips questioned why a bullet with such velocity wasn’t more regulated, and why a person ordering 4,000 rounds wasn’t questioned about needing so much ammo. She also said Holmes was not required to show his license to verify that he was of age to legally make those purchases.

READ MORE: Colorado theater shooter found guilty of murder, may face death penalty

We need to have some regulations in place or this thing is going to continue to happen again and again and again,” she said.

In his order to dismiss the case, Judge Richard Matsch said the suit had been filed for propaganda purposes.

“It is apparent that this case was filed to pursue the political purposes of the Brady Center and, given the failure to present any cognizable legal claim, bringing these defendants into the Colorado court where the prosecution of James Holmes was proceeding appears to be more of an opportunity to propagandize the public and stigmatize the defendants than to obtain a court order,” the judge’s order said.