WASHINGTON – Family members of two Washington-area sniper victims filed suit Thursday against a gun maker and a gun dealer, charging that the businesses “share the responsibility” for the spree that killed 10 and wounded three.
Denise Johnson said that if Bushmaster Firearms and Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply had practiced “due diligence” in the handling of the Bushmaster XM-15 rifle that police believe was used in the killings, her husband, Conrad, might be alive today.
“My children have lost the chance to grow up with their father. I have lost my best friend,” said Johnson, pausing to catch her breath and holding a picture of herself and her husband.
Johnson and other family members were joined by Victoria Snider, the sister of sniper victim James “Sonny” Buchanan Jr., and representatives of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence to announce the suit, which was filed Thursday in Washington state.
The suit, which also names sniper suspects John Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad, charges the companies with negligence: Bull’s Eye for losing track of scores of guns in its inventory and Bushmaster for continuing to do business with the Tacoma, Wash., gun shop.
“ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) records show that in the last three years alone, 238 guns managed to escape, without detection, from this gun store,” said Dennis Henigan, director of Brady’s Legal Action Project.
Bull’s Eye officials — the suit also names store owners Charles Carr and Brian Borgelt — could not be reached for comment Thursday. But Bushmaster said it did nothing wrong.
“We sold the rifle legally to a firearms dealer licensed by the federal government, and then it was stolen,” said Allen Faraday, vice president of administration for Bushmaster.
He criticized the suit as part of a campaign by “well-financed anti-gun groups that take advantage of a heinous crime like this to push their anti-gun agenda.”
The Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association joined in condemning the suit.
“It’s just another frivolous lawsuit that’s going to get thrown out,” said association President Larry Moreland. “How can you blame a manufacturer for the product he makes?”
The rifle in question is commonly used by competitive shooters and law enforcement personnel, said Faraday, who called it “a very accurate rifle.”
An employee at Arundel Firearms and Pawn, who would only give his name as Terry, said the store sells several Bushmasters a year, primarily to collectors who “never fire them, they collect them and put them in the cabinet.”
Baltimore Police Sgt. Kurt Lurz described the Bushmaster XM-15 as “sort of the civilian version of the military M-16.”
Police say a Bushmaster XM-15 was used to kill Conrad Johnson early on Oct. 22 as he was preparing to start his Montgomery County Ride-On bus route. They say the same gun was used to kill Buchanan Oct. 3 as he was cutting the grass outside a Rockville car dealership.
Three other families have committed to joining the suit, said Mike Barnes, president of the Brady Center, and will do so once they have filed preliminary paperwork. More families could join later, Henigan said.
For Conrad Johnson’s mother, Sonia Wills, filing the suit only intensified the pain she has felt every day since he was killed.
“On a day like today, it’s multiplied,” she said of the heartache.
But she blamed the companies for “crazy, careless” behavior and hopes the lawsuit will bring “the satisfaction that this will stop.”