HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — Eduardo Uvaldo, 69, was one of the seven people killed in the July 4, 2022 parade attack in Highland Park. For his daughter, Nubia Hogan, it’s been a year of grieving, reflecting, and searching for solutions to the problem of mass shootings.
“I think that they need to ban these weapons,” Hogan said. “They don’t need to be out there. Civilians don’t need it. These are weapons of war.”
In the year since the parade attack, Congress has enacted little in the way of gun safety legislation. Last June, President Biden signed into law a series of minor changes to federal gun laws, the most significant aspect closes the so-called ‘boyfriend loophole.’
The ‘Boyfriend Loophole’ was a gap in American gun legislation that allowed abusive ex-romantic partners and stalkers with previous restraining orders or criminal convictions access to guns. Before Biden signed the bills, such individuals were prohibited from owning guns only if their victims were their spouse or cohabitant, or if they had a child with the victim.
This year, Illinois passed a semi-automatic weapons ban, but a patchwork of state laws has had little effect on the overall national problem of mass shootings with semiautomatic weapons.
One newer approach to accountability is civil litigation.
“I feel the heavy burden that the families are relying upon us to do something, because no one else is,” said Antonio Romanucci, a Chicago attorney who is leading a lawsuit against gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson, the maker of the weapon used by the Highland Park shooter. “We know who is to blame, and that is Smith & Wesson … They are the ones who put this gun in this person’s hands.”
A federal law protects gun manufacturers from being held liable for mass shootings, but Romanucci is arguing that Smith & Wesson violated state consumer protection laws, alleged transgressions for which the gun maker could be held responsible.
The 71-page lawsuit alleges that “the marketing and sales practices of Smith & Wesson are the beginning and pivotal links in a foreseeable and predictable chain of events resulting in numerous mass shootings.”
Smith & Wesson did not respond to WGN’s requests for comment, but in a written statement the company criticized politicians and others who blame the gun makers for shootings.
“They seek to avoid any responsibility for the crisis of violence they have created by attempting to shift the blame to Smith & Wesson, other firearm manufacturers and law-abiding gun owners,” the statement partially reads.
it’s a legal strategy that has already worked — the families of those killed in the Sandy Hook shooting sued gunmaker ‘Remington,’ which settled the case by paying $73 million to the families of nine of the victims.
“We are trying to do something similar here in Illinois. this violation of state law never should have happened, and we are saying it’s a cause of the shooting,” Romanucci said.
The suit also names the gun seller, the shooter, and the shooter’s father – but earlier this year, a gun rights advocate and owner of Maxon Shooter Supplies in Des Plaines said the gun industry, and law-abiding gun owners, should not be punished for the actions of criminals.
“Your problem lies somewhere in these deranged criminal offenders, they’re the ones who are culpable,” Dan Eldridge, owner of Maxon shooters supplies said. “In what way are law-abiding gun owners in Illinois responsible for the deranged acts of a criminally insane person?”
But the victims see access to semiautomatic weapons as the problem – and Romanucci sees litigation as perhaps the only avenue of change, a.k.a. confronting the firearms industry with the possibility of financial losses.
“We’re not going to get uniformity in this country unless there are enough lawyers who will bring on these cases – and these are very difficult cases – where it becomes unsustainable for the gun manufacturers to defend these,” Romanucci said. “Any time when there’s a mass shooting where you see a pattern, it is my belief that if there’s a viable claim, that a lawsuit should be brought so that it’s unsustainable for the gun manufacturers to defend.”
A judge is deciding the proper venue – Smith & Wesson wants it heard in federal court, while Romanucci says it should be heard in Lake County, Illinois where the alleged violations occurred.