WASHINGTON – For Vicky Snider, “no amount of money in the world” will compensate for the loss of her brother, James L. “Sonny” Buchanan Jr., to the Washington-area snipers two years ago
But the Rockville woman was taking some comfort from the fact Thursday that the maker and seller of the gun used in the 2002 sniper attacks will be paying $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit that she filed with sniper survivors and other victims’ families.
Snider said she hopes the settlement will force the gun industry to “be more careful in who they deal with.” Her comments came during a news conference at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, where she was joined by other plaintiffs.
“I feel happy because this is a very big lesson for gun makers and gun sellers,” said Rupinder “Benny” Oberoi, who was wounded at the Silver Spring liquor store where he worked.
“Something should have been done long ago, but I’m glad that we did something,” said Oberoi, who participated in the announcement by conference call.
That “something” was the lawsuit, filed by the Brady Center in January 2003 on behalf of two survivors and the families of six victims. The case was filed against sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo — who have since been convicted — Bushmaster Firearms, which made the XM-15 semiautomatic assault rifle they used, and Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply, where the gun came from.
Bull’s Eye agreed to pay $2 million and Bushmaster agreed to pay $550,000 to settle the suit.
Brian Borgelt, former owner of Bull’s Eye, said Thursday that he could find no records showing that the snipers’ gun was sold by his shop. But he insisted his business is not to blame for what happened.
“When you consider the scope of the operation — repair, transfers, normal sales — our record of control is excellent. It would . . . be one of the higher in the industry,” Borgelt said. “Do we have errors’ Of course. But nothing in excessive numbers.”
Brady Center Legal Director Dennis Henigan said Bull’s Eye showed negligence for not knowing if the gun was sold to the snipers. Despite Borgelt’s claim, Henigan said the Tacoma, Wash., gun shop had one of the highest rates in the nation for weapons traced to criminal activities.
Borgelt said he decided to settle to bring closure to the incident.
“This was never anything that we ever imagined would happen in the course of this business,” he said. “I just hope that victims’ families don’t harbor any negative feelings against me or think that I was behind this . . . . (the snipers) turned our lives upside down, too.”
But the victims and families said that Bull’s Eye and Bushmaster are partly to blame for their loss.
“I still don’t get how you can steal a 3-foot gun off the floor,” Snider said. “This created mass destruction in each of our loved ones’ bodies.”
Family members took the opportunity Thursday to urge Congress to renew a federal assault-weapons ban which is due to expire Monday.
“People who are protecting our country should have these guns, not civilians who are killing people out on the street,” Oberoi said.
Snider, who has lobbied the Maryland legislature for stricter state regulations, said her “biggest fear” is that the weapons ban will not be renewed.
“There are more regulations on toys and automobiles than there are on guns today,” she said. “We as citizens need to stand up and say, ‘No more.'”
-30- CNS 09-09-04