LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15 (JTA) Families of the victims of a white supremacist’s 1999 shooting spree at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in California have filed a lawsuit against gun makers, saying they should be held responsible for the incident.
The Aug. 9 lawsuit alleges that six firearms manufacturers are liable for “public nuisance and negligence” and failure to take steps to prevent criminals such as alleged gunman Buford O’Neal Furrow Jr. from obtaining guns.
Joining in the lawsuit is the mother of Joseph Ileto, a U.S. mail carrier allegedly killed by Furrow the same day as the JCC shootings with a pistol bought in a pawn shop.
The lawsuit charges that Furrow, an avowed white supremacist and convicted felon with a history of mental instability, should not have been able to buy five assault rifles, two handguns and 7,000 rounds of ammunition that were all found in his van.
“It’s not enough to let guns go out of your factory door and say, Sorry, we don’t know where they are headed,” said Joshua Horwitz, the plaintiffs’ attorney and executive director of the Washington-based Educational Fund to End Handgun Violence.
Filed one day before the first anniversary of the shooting, the lawsuit is similar to ones brought by various cities against gun makers for inflicted social harm on the public and costs of crimes. The difference is that the current lawsuit names specific victims of gun violence, said Horwitz.
The plaintiffs are Lilian Ileto, mother of the slain Filipino American mail carrier; Loren Lieb and Alan Stepakoff, suing on behalf of their son Joshua Stepakoff, who was shot in the leg; David and Donna Finkelstein, on behalf of their daughter Mindy, a teen-age counselor, also shot in the leg; and Charles and Eleanor Kadish, whose 6-year-old son, Ben, nearly died from a stomach wound.
In the attack on the North Valley JCC, Furrow allegedly fired 70 bullets from a Norinco, a China-made clone of Israel’s Uzi submachine gun.
Also suing are the parents of Nathan Powers, who was in the Jewish center day camp during the shooting. Though not physically hurt, the lawsuit claims he suffered emotional damage.
Horwitz said that Powers’ participation may enable others who were not physically harmed to join the legal action.
In a related development, court papers filed by the prosecution Aug. 8 allege that the imprisoned Furrow has threatened to kill his team of public defenders and a Latino inmate, whom he considers to be Satan.
Maria Stratton, head of the federal public defenders’ office, said she and her colleagues do not feel threatened by Furrow, adding, “He is a very mentally ill person, and we see him on a daily basis. He struggles with it, and we struggle with it with him.”
Furrow is charged with 16 counts of murder, weapons offenses and hate crimes. His trial is scheduled to begin next February.