Our Work

Our History: Brady Legal


Brady Legal is the only public interest law organization in the country dedicated to fighting in the courts for victims, survivors, and communities for an America free from gun violence. In 1989, Brady recognized that the billion-dollar gun industry wielded undue influence in the highest branches of government, but in the courts principles of justice and accountability could prevail over lobbying clout. We’ve litigated in over 40 states, winning landmark precedents in trial and appellate courts across the country that hold irresponsible gun companies accountable for contributing to gun violence, and protecting the rights of Americans to enact the laws they need to make their communities safe. We’ve also won more than $30 million in verdicts and settlements on behalf of victims and survivors of gun violence. And after 30 years, we’re more active and determined than ever to create effective, meaningful change in how the gun industry conducts business, to secure justice for the victims and survivors of gun violence, and to end our nation’s gun violence epidemic.

Our indefatigable efforts in America’s courts wouldn’t be possible without our partners in the Brady Legal Alliance. Our legal alliance consists of hundreds of lawyers and firms that work with the Brady Legal team to contribute their passion and time to the movement to prevent gun violence on the state and local level. The Brady Legal Alliance enables Brady to leverage our expertise to create a legal army dedicated to making America safe from gun violence.

How Does Brady Legal Address Gun Violence in the Courts?

  • Bring forward lawsuits that hold bad actors in the gun industry accountable and take the profit out of supplying the criminal gun market and selling guns without life-saving safety features.
  • Build legal precedent that preserves and enables gun safety legislation on the state, local, and federal level.
  • Use litigation and storytelling to educate, engage, and mobilize the public to take action against gun violence.
  • Reform gun industry practices by forcing companies to implement safer sales practices and designs and encourages them to use best practices.
  • Defend key gun laws that are under attack by the corporate gun industry and challenge dangerous laws that place Americans at risk.
  • Fight to establish the most important right of all Americans — the right to live.

Chapter 1: Taking on Weapons of War

From the start, Brady Legal has taken on the toughest fights on behalf of victims and survivors most deeply affected by gun violence. The legal team’s priorities have been to reform dangerous gun industry practices, establish impactful precedent, obtain justice for victims and survivors, and educate and mobilize the public to take action against bad actors. One of Brady Legal’s first lawsuits was on behalf of victims of a 1993 mass shooting in a San Francisco law office, known as the 101 California Street Shooting, in which eight people were killed and six more were injured.. Brady Legal brought Merrill v. Navegar, Inc. against Navegar, the gun manufacturer that designed the two deadly assault-style weapons used by the shooter. The lawsuit helped pave the way for gun industry impact lawsuits decades later.

Brady Legal argued that Navegar acted negligently by manufacturing, marketing, and making a cheap, military-style assault weapon, designed for close-quarters combat, available to the public. Brady Legal laid the groundwork for negligence cases after the Court of Appeals of California ruled that the manufacturer of a gun used in a shooting could be held liable for negligence.

Although that decision was later reversed by the California Supreme Court on the basis of a state law, the legal theories helped pave the way for future impact cases, including an important win in the Connecticut Supreme Court for families impacted by the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Brady Legal has since won victories on behalf of victims of assault weapons shootings, including a $2 million settlement for victims of a mass workplace shooting in Kansas, and a court win and eventual settlement for victims of a Christmas Eve mass shooting in Webster, New York. We are currently litigating lawsuits for victims of two of the worst assault weapon mass shootings in American history, at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Brady Legal’s lawsuit and the 101 California Street shooting also played a pivotal role in the fight against gun violence, as the California legislature later repealed the law that led to the suit’s dismissal.

Chapter 2: Making Guns Safer

Brady Legal has also led the fight in the courts to make guns safer. When 14-year-old Sean Smith was shot by a 15-year-old friend with a gun he thought was unloaded, Brady Legal brought suit for Sean against the gun’s manufacturer, Bryco Arms. In 2001, Brady Legal won a landmark decision in the New Mexico Court of Appeals holding that Bryco could be liable for failing to include a magazine disconnect safety that would have prevented the gun from firing.

Brady Legal fought for more novel safety features in Dix v. Beretta, a case arising out of the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Kenzo Dix by his 14-year-old friend, Michael, also with a gun thought to be unloaded. In a lawsuit for Kenzo’s parents, Brady Legal argued that it was Beretta's responsibility to design their weapons to protect against unintended use by children and others. Brady contended that — just as automakers design cars with airbags and seatbelts — guns should be made with built-in locks, or other technology that prevent unauthorized users from firing them. The case established important precedent when the court held that Beretta could be held liable under this theory. Although the jury ultimately ruled for Beretta, the case established a roadmap used in a similar suit shortly after that resulted in a $24 million verdict that drove Bryco into bankruptcy. Following the case, Beretta also released a weapon with a built-in lock, and others in the gun industry followed suit. Additionally, California enacted legislation that required some of the safety features advocated in the lawsuit.

Brady Legal continues to represent the families of children to make guns more safe, including an ongoing lawsuit in Pennsylvania on behalf of the parents of 13-year-old J.R. Gustafson, who was unintentionally killed by a friend with a gun he thought was unloaded.

Chapter 3: Stopping Crime Gun Sales

In case after case, in courts across the country, Brady Legal has been on the front lines of stopping the flow of guns to the criminal market. When two New Jersey police officers were shot with a gun trafficked from a West Virginia gun dealer, Brady Legal brought suit with West Virginia trial lawyer Scott Segal, won a court ruling that the dealer and manufacturer could be liable for negligently selling the gun, and ultimately won a $1 million settlement against the dealer — and led several dealers to stop engaging in multiple sales of handguns. When three boys — aged 7, 10, and 15 — were shot and killed with trafficked guns in Philadelphia, Brady Legal brought lawsuits against the dealers who sold the guns, winning settlements and leading one dealer to be forced out of business.

In the late 1990s, Brady Legal supported dozens of states and more than 30 cities and counties who brought lawsuits against the gun industry for their negligent distribution of guns to supply the criminal market. Brady won landmark rulings in the Supreme Courts of Indiana and Ohio and other courts, holding that the industry could be liable and cities could recover damages for their losses. The city lawsuits also resulted in a landmark settlement with major gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson, which agreed to significantly reform its sales and design practices to prevent gun deaths and injuries. In 2002, when Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia were terrorized by the Beltway sniper attacks, Brady’s team, with the Paul Luvera firm in Seattle, filed a lawsuit against the gun dealer and manufacturer, winning a ruling that both could be held liable for negligence, and then a $2.5 million settlement against the dealer and manufacturer. This monumental victory for Brady Legal was the first time in our history that the gun manufacturer had to pay for damages of a crime committed with their weapons.

In 2015, a lawsuit brought by Brady Legal and Wisconsin trial lawyer Pat Dunphy on behalf of two injured police officers resulted in a $5.7 million dollar verdict against a gun dealer who had been the top supplier of crime guns in the country. Brady Legal has won victories holding gun companies accountable for supplying crime guns in the Supreme Courts of Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio, as well as trial and appellate courts in Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and other states.

Brady continues to represent victims against gun companies who negligently supplied the guns used to shoot them in cases across the country, and after 20 years is still pursuing the City of Gary, Indiana’s lawsuit against the gun industry.

Chapter 4: Battling the Gun Lobby’s Special Protections

While Brady Legal was formed to fight for gun violence prevention in a forum where principles of justice are administered equally, regardless of lobbying clout, much of our work now involves fighting special laws obtained by the gun lobby that shield it from civil justice. For several years, the NRA made it their top priority to obtain special protections for the gun industry, and in 2005 Congress — led by then-NRA Board member Senator Larry Craig — enacted the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). PLCAA gives the gun industry unique, special protections from civil justice law; while Congress intended PLCAA to provide narrow protection, some courts have held that PLCAA exempts gun companies from the fundamental principles of negligence and products liability in many cases. The gun industry is the only industry in America that has these special protections.

Brady Legal has fought against gun industry claims that PLCAA provides them sweeping immunity, and has won many victories holding that PLCAA does not give broad protections. One court even found that PLCAA is unconstitutional. Brady Legal continues to challenge the scope and constitutionality of PLCAA in the courts, with over a dozen cases pending in 2019. Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced in the 115th Congress to repeal PLCAA.

Epilogue

While an epilogue usually indicates the end, that’s hardly the case with Brady Legal. Our team is still diligently working with the Brady Legal Alliance to fight for the rights of victims and survivors to have their day in court and hold gun companies accountable for their role in contributing to — and profiting from — gun violence. In total, Brady Legal has secured $30 million dollars in settlements and verdicts against gun companies and a combined $100 million dollars in cases in which we have assisted. If that’s not justice, we don’t know what is. Find out more about Brady Legal’s cases, team and mission.