A group of Catholic nuns has initiated legal action against the firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson, demanding the cessation of AR-style rifle production, which they argue are the favoured weapons of numerous mass murderers.
Filed in a Nevada district court last Tuesday, the lawsuit contends that Smith & Wesson has consistently ignored warning signs and failed to respond appropriately to mass shootings in the United States. The legal action cites some of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history, including incidents in Aurora, Colorado (2012), Parkland, Florida (2018), and Uvalde, Texas (2022).
Smith & Wesson has not yet provided a response to the lawsuit as of Wednesday evening. Lawrence Keane, representing the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade association, dismissed the lawsuit as “frivolous” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, suggesting that the nuns had previously filed shareholder proposals without success and were now attempting a different approach.
In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, the nuns, representing four congregations, declared that AR-style rifles “have claimed the lives of numerous innocent people and wreaked havoc on communities nationwide.” They further explained that, as stockholders of Smith & Wesson, they have advocated for resolutions that compel the company to disclose the “exposure to risk and liability” associated with its production of AR-style rifles.
Their statement emphasised that these rifles serve no purpose other than mass violence and are not the type of sporting firearms valued by responsible gun owners, including members of their own families.
Jeffrey Norton, an attorney representing the nuns, described his clients as “activist investors,” individuals who purchase company stock with the intention of pursuing specific objectives. Norton expressed pride in partnering with these Catholic Sisters who have long sought corporate responsibility through their shareholder activism, as stated in a news release on Tuesday.
This legal action is not without precedent. In 2018, shareholders, including faith-based organizations, passed a resolution requiring Smith & Wesson to produce a report outlining how it would address the safety risks posed by its products, as reported by CNBC. Additionally, Smith & Wesson has faced multiple lawsuits from survivors of shootings and victims’ families.
The lawsuit points out that Smith & Wesson, established in 1852, manufactured pistols, revolvers, and other firearms for over 150 years before branching into long gun production in 2006. The lawsuit alleges that despite the exponential increase in gun-related deaths and mass shootings, Smith & Wesson continued to prosper after this expansion. AR-style rifles were employed in mass shootings in locations such as Colorado Springs, Nashville, and Uvalde.
The lawsuit contends that Smith & Wesson’s production of such firearms complicates and endangers the response of law enforcement to mass shootings. It references the Robb Elementary School tragedy in Uvalde, where officers waited for over an hour before entering a classroom to confront the assailant.
The nuns also accuse Smith & Wesson of employing “aesthetic marketing,” including advertisements targeting young people, despite age restrictions imposed by many states on firearm purchases. The lawsuit additionally alleges that Smith & Wesson lacks a system for tracking injuries and deaths resulting from its rifles, whether due to accidental discharge, product malfunctions, or deliberate use.
The lawsuit calls upon Smith & Wesson to amend its policies to safeguard the company and its shareholders from a repetition of these harmful events. In their Tuesday statement, the nuns urged Smith & Wesson to return to its pre-2006 production cycle, prior to its manufacturing of long guns and its portrayal as a beacon of responsible gun ownership. The lawsuit includes a striking photograph on its first page, depicting an AR-style rifle used in the Aurora movie theater attack, surrounded by bright pink flip-flops and a blood-spattered floor.
Dr. Iain Overton, author of Gun Baby Gun and AOAV’s executive director, commended the nuns’ novel approach, stating, “In the pursuit of a safer society, unconventional voices can spark the most impactful change. These inspiring nuns are reminding us that responsible gun ownership and corporate accountability go hand in hand.”
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