The parents of a young woman killed by a mass shooter can’t pursue claims against Colt’s Manufacturing Co. and other gun companies under Nevada’s broad immunity provision for gunmakers, even though the AR-15 rifles allegedly violated a ban on machine guns, the state’s high court said.
“We in no way underestimate the profound public policy issues presented or the horrific tragedy the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting inflicted,” Justice Kristina Pickering said Thursday for the Nevada Supreme Court.
“We urge the Legislature to act if it did not mean to provide immunity in situations like this one,” she said.
The unanimous court answered state-law questions posed to it by a federal court that found James and Ann-Marie Parsons adequately alleged an exception to federal gunmaker immunity on the basis that the rifles’ easy modification by a bump stock rendered them machine guns.
The suit stems from the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. The couple allege the shooter stocked his hotel room above the festival concert with 12 AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, bump stocks, and large-capacity magazines. He killed 58 people, including their daughter Carrie, they say.
The couple sued AR-15 makers and dealers over Carrie’s death. They allege the AR-15 is a “thinly disguised machine gun” and brought wrongful death, negligence per se, and negligent entrustment claims.
The federal judge overseeing the case initially allowed only the wrongful death claim to proceed, but then reinstated the negligence per se claim.
The Parsons plausibly alleged an exception to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, the judge said. But he asked the state top court whether the claims could proceed in light of a Nevada statute that says, “No person has a cause of action against the manufacturer or distributor of any firearm or ammunition merely because the firearm or ammunition was capable of causing serious injury, damage or death, was discharged and proximately caused serious injury, damage or death.”
The supreme court said the suit “is arguably premised on fault beyond a firearm’s inherent ability to cause harm.” But the statute doesn’t limit immunity “to the manufacture and distribution of legal firearms,” Pickering said.
“If civil liability is to be imposed against firearm manufacturers and distributors in the position of the gun companies in this case, that decision is for the Legislature, not this court,” she said.
The case is Parsons v. Colt’s Mfg. Co., 2021 BL 460660, Nev., No. 81034, 12/2/21.