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Since January of 2019, a terrifying 248 shootings have taken place throughout the United States. A total of 979 people were shot, and 246 of them died from their wounds.
These statistics are only recent as of August 7, 2019. According to data posted on the Gun Violence Archive website, from August 1st through the 7th, there were 8 mass shootings. In those incidents, 37 people were killed. (See a live map of current mass shootings.)
What is a Mass Shooting?
There are a handful of definitions for the term “mass shooting.” In the case of the Gun Violence Archive, it’s defined as “an incident in which four or more people, excluding the perpetrators, are shot in one location at roughly the same time.” The numbers above don’t account for shootings in which three or fewer people were killed, of which there were hundreds more.
Given the four victim definition, the death toll between January and August, 2019, is equivalent to 1.2 deaths every day. That’s more than 8 deaths weekly, and as many as 37 every month.
What is an Active Shooter Incident?
While “mass shootings” include any gun-related shooting with four or more victims, an active shooter incident is a term defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI.) According to the FBI, an “active shooter incident” includes “violent acts and shootings occurring in a place of public use.”
The FBI didn’t clarify the number of victims, per se, but did count the number of incidents per year. A graph of their findings is below.
Without comparing the difference in the definition, both of these statistics have one thing in common: the number of incidents and victims per incident, has risen dramatically over the past 20 years.
The FBI’s study showed that there was an average increase of 1.36 incidents each year. That adds up to more than 19 per year by 2013.
Is the Property Owner Liable for the Death of a Loved One in a Mass Shooting or Active Shooter Incident?
Wrongful death cases are lawsuits filed against a person or entity for taking part in the death of another due to negligence. Negligence, legally speaking, is defined as “failure to act as a reasonable person would have acted in a given situation.”
The claims of those bringing the suit tend to focus on evidence of negligence. However, making a strong case for this is a challenging and complex process.
In the case of an active shooter incident, or a mass shooting, any claim of property owner negligence would have to show that:
- They were aware of the intent of the shooter and didn’t do anything to prevent it beforehand
- They had the capacity to take action, without life-threatening danger to themselves, and failed to do so
- Or, they had a relationship to the shooter, should have known about their intent, and failed to take any action to prevent the shooting
Generally speaking, if a gunman walked onto a property without the owner’s knowledge and began shooting, the proprietor would most likely not be held liable. Under the circumstances, they couldn’t have known that the incident was about to happen.
Can Someone be Held Responsible if There Were Warning Signs of a Mass Shooting?
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold: The Columbine High School Shooting
One of the most notorious mass shootings of the 20th century took place in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999. Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, walked through the halls of Columbine High School shooting students and teachers.
When the smoke cleared, 13 victims were dead and another 20 were wounded. The gunmen then turned their weapons on themselves.
According to a report by the evening news show, 60 Minutes,
“Devon Adams was a sophomore at Columbine in 1998, when she found her name on Harris’ Web site – on his hit list. She says that she told an assistant principal at Columbine that Harris had threatened her. The assistant principal now denies that Adams ever spoke to her about Harris. By that time, Klebold and Harris had already bought a rifle, a semiautomatic pistol and two sawed-off shotguns.”
In fact, the article continues, Eric Harris had posted the website long before the shooting and had made open threats about killing a number of students. Security personnel at the high school had given warnings to school officials about the potential for the shooters’ actions. And police had even been involved in prior criminal investigations against the boys after they were reported as having illegal possession of firearms.
In April of 2001, four lawsuits against Harris’ and Kleobold’s parents, as well as two men who provided them with firearms, were settled for $2.53 million. Additional lawsuits were won against the families, and the Sheriff’s Office.
Nikolas Cruz and the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting
Nineteen years and more than 2,000 mass shootings later, the epidemic has skyrocketed. Nikolas Cruz was identified by several tips to be a potential active shooter suspect. Several people had come forward to warn authorities that he was making threats about committing a mass shooting.
In September of 2017, five months before the incident in which Cruz murdered 17 students and teachers, and wounded 17 more, he made threats on YouTube about committing the crime. There were numerous and obvious indicators that he was intent on following through on his threats.
As a result of the negligence portrayed by the Sheriff’s Office, the Broward County school board, and others, 22 lawsuits have been filed by the families of the victims. The grounds for their claims are negligence, as demonstrated by failing to act on so many tips and obvious warnings.
What if There Were No Warning Signs of an Active Shooter Incident?
Stephen Paddock and the 2017 Mandalay Bay Shooting
Paddock had booked a room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 1, 2017. Throughout the day, he had transported a total of 24 firearms, including assault rifles and high-powered rifles, as well as hundreds of rounds of ammunition, to his hotel room in the highrise hotel.
As he was preparing to commit the deadliest mass shooting in American history, the Route 91 Harvest music festival was going on in the parking lot below. At 10:05 PM, Paddock opened fire, using high-capacity magazines and bump-stocks, enabling him to fire 90 rounds per 10 seconds.
Over a period of ten minutes, the barrage of gunfire from the high rise hotel room had killed 58 people and wounded another 422. Finally, Paddock ended his own life with one of the weapons he had used to commit the atrocity.
In the aftermath of the shootings, legal actions were taken against the Mandalay Bay Hotel. The lawsuits claimed that the hotel staff had acted negligently when they witnessed Paddock taking the weapons to his room. After all, if they saw the weapons being transported, why didn’t they say something?
Ultimately, the answer comes down to the fact that Nevada is a pro-gun state. Without restrictions on the weapons and accessories, there wasn’t any reason for hotel staff to suspect that the shootings were going to take place.
MGM Resorts International countersued against those making claims of negligence. As a result, they weren’t held liable, having claimed that they could not have known about the impending incident.
To bolster their claim, MGM blamed the music festival’s security for not adequately protecting concert attendees. However, according to a story released in May of 2019, MGM will most likely be required to pay more than $800 million in damages to victims and families.
The Final Verdict on Legal Actions Against Property Owners for Mass Shootings
History has clearly indicated that anyone at fault for negligence in preventing a mass shooting can be liable for legal injury claims. However, this doesn’t completely support the idea that any proprietor can be accountable.
The most recent incidents in El Paso and Dayton took place in public areas where the property owners most likely could not have known the incidents were going to take place. Without the knowledge of threats, anonymous tips, or other clues to the impending actions, they didn’t have enough information to prepare. Hence, it’s arguable that they could not have acted with “duty of care” in a reasonable response to the shooting.
That is to say that the mall in El Paso could not have hired additional security guards, or requested additional police to prevent the tragedy. Without warning, they were unable to respond effectively, with no fault to themselves.
Many of the shooting incidents that have taken place over the past two decades didn’t result in legal actions against property owners. This all relates to the circumstances of each shooting, and shows that liability is dependent on a case-by-case basis.
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