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In a unique turn of events, Catholic nuns have brought a lawsuit against firearm manufacturers Smith & Wesson. Directed at board members, the suit is an attempt to force the gunmakers to cease production, marketing, and sales of assault-style rifles.
According to Reuters, the nuns are shareholders of Smith & Wesson, making this action what is known as a derivative lawsuit. Such a lawsuit can hold the corporate board liable for any breaches of their responsibilities to shareholders, although the report notes that courts generally find boards have protections from lawsuits. In this instance, Jeffery Norton, attorney for the nuns, explained that this is the first derivative case against a board over assault-style rifles.
The nuns allege that directors and senior management of Smith & Wesson have violated federal law and placed shareholders at risk due to the way the rifles are made and sold. Furthermore, they claim that the gunmakers have ignored “red flags” According to Newser, the nuns claim in the lawsuit:
“[AR-style rifles] have stolen the lives of so many innocent people and devastated communities across the nation,” The noted that such weapons make it “more difficult and more dangerous for law enforcement to respond [to mass killings],” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit goes on to state that Smith & Wessen has been “seemingly unfazed” by the rise in mass shootings in the US. It further notes that the company has no means of tracking “injuries and deaths” caused by their weapon, as well as alleging that the company markets their guns to children by mimicking the appearance of a first-person shooter video game.
It is not the first lawsuit against gun companies in relation to mass shootings. In 2022, Remington paid some $73 million to settle claims from the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. There is, however, some question of whether or not this lawsuit will make it through the court. Joe Kavan, a lawyer who represents firearms companies, told the Wall Street Journal that he believes the suit is too speculative to survive summary judgment.
The nuns involved in the lawsuit hail from four different religious communities: the Adrian Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan, the Sisters of Bon Secours USA, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus & Mary, US-Ontario Province. They have previously used their position as shareholders to raise concerns about a variety of issues with other big-name companies like Hyatt and General Electric.