A coalition of Catholic nuns has filed a lawsuit against gunmaker Smith & Wesson, calling for the company to stop producing AR-style rifles, which the women claim are “the weapon of choice for numerous mass murderers.”
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in a Nevada district court, alleges that Smith & Wesson has repeatedly ignored “red flags” and failed to respond appropriately to mass shootings in the United States. The lawsuit references some of the deadliest mass killings in recent U.S. history - including at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in 2012; a high school in Parkland, Fla., in 2018; and an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., in 2022.
Smith & Wesson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening. Lawrence Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group for gunmakers, described the lawsuit as “frivolous” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
“This same group has been filing shareholder proposals and losing so I guess they’re trying a new tactic,” he told the paper.
The nuns, who represent four congregations, said in a joint statement on Tuesday that AR-style rifles “have stolen the lives of so many innocent people and devastated communities across the nation.” They added that, as Smith & Wesson stockholders, they have supported resolutions for the company to explain to shareholders the “exposure to risk and liability” pertaining to its manufacturing of AR-style rifles.
“These rifles have no purpose other than mass murder,” the statement read. “They are not the sporting rifles that members of our own families and other responsible gun owners value.”
Jeffrey Norton, an attorney representing the nuns, said in a statement to The Washington Post that his clients are “activist investors,” meaning they buy stock in a company to pursue a certain goal.
“We are proud to partner with these congregations of Catholic Sisters who have long sought corporate responsibility through their shareholder activism,” Norton said in a news release on Tuesday.
The action is not the first of its kind. In 2018, shareholders, including some faith-based organizations, passed a resolution requiring Smith & Wesson to create a report about how it would address the safety risks its products posed, CNBC reported. Smith & Wesson has also faced several lawsuits from shooting survivors and victims’ families.
Founded in 1852, Smith & Wesson produced pistols, revolvers and other firearms for more than 150 years before it began producing long guns in 2006. The company’s first rifle series debuted in February of that year.
Afterward, Smith & Wesson saw a rise in profits and was “seemingly unfazed by the exponential rise in gun deaths and mass shootings carried out with its product,” the lawsuit alleges. It adds that AR-style rifles were used in mass killings, including in Colorado Springs, Nashville and Uvalde.
Smith & Wesson producing such weapons makes “it more difficult and more dangerous for law enforcement to respond” to mass killings, the lawsuit states, referencing the Robb Elementary School massacre in Uvalde, where officers waited more than an hour before entering a classroom to confront the gunman.
The nuns also accuse Smith & Wesson of using “aesthetic marketing,” including advertisements that are geared toward young people “despite the fact that many states impose age restrictions” on purchasing firearms. Smith & Wesson also does not have a system for “tracking injuries and deaths caused by” its rifles, “whether from accidental discharge, product malfunction, or deliberate use,” the lawsuit alleges.
The suit calls on Smith & Wesson to revise its policies to protect the company and stockholders “from a repeat of the damaging events.” In their statement Tuesday, the nuns urged Smith & Wesson to return to its production cycle pre-2006 - before it manufactured long guns and “held itself as a successful beacon of responsible gun ownership.”
One of the first pages of the lawsuit is taken up almost entirely by a single photo captured in the aftermath of the attack in the Aurora movie theater.
The image shows the AR-style rifle the gunman used in the attack laying between a pair of bright pink flip flops, the ground splattered with blood.
“It’s horrific,” Norton said in a statement. “That’s the point.”