Tree of Life

A memorial outside the Tree of Life building after the Oct. 27, 2018, anti-Semitic murders of 11 congregants. 

The son of a couple murdered during the massacre at the Tree of Life building on Oct. 27, 2018, has filed a lawsuit in the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas against Colt Manufacturing alleging that the gun lobby, through anti-Semitic propaganda, incited the shooter to carry out “one of the bloodiest acts of domestic terrorism in United States history” with an AR-15, a “machine gun not suitable for civilians.”

Marc Simon, as executor of the estate of his parents, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, has also named the shooter as a defendant in the lawsuit.

“Our goal first and foremost is to save lives,” said Robert Bracken of Bracken Lamberton, LLC, one of the lawyers representing Simon. “If we can prevent just one hate crime or avert just one mass shooting, it’s worth it.”

The 45-page complaint alleges the gun lobby radicalized the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter with a barrage of white supremacist conspiracy theories about Jews. The complaint is peppered with screenshots from social media posted by leaders of the National Rifle Association and its supporters with explicit anti-Semitic messages and imagery. One post by Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, reads: “Join the NRA to end Semitism.”

“We’ve seen what can happen with hate speech on social media,” said Charles Lamberton, co-counsel for Simon. “It echoes around and gets amplified. Dangerous people become more dangerous. It’s a recipe for disaster.

“AR-15s are designed to kill people,” Lamberton added. “That’s the only thing they’re good for. A company that puts profits ahead of people and floods our markets with these military weapons must be held accountable.”

The complaint alleges that mass shootings are profitable because donations to the gun lobby and sales of ammunition surge afterward.

Simon’s lawsuit, filed on Jan. 21, 2021, also names the NRA as a defendant. However, because the NRA filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 15, 2021, no claims are brought against the NRA in the lawsuit.

This is not the first time that a gun manufacturer has been sued for violence inflicted by its products, Bracken explained. While those cases generally have not been successful, he believes this case has a chance to prevail because of a recent court decision — and a new administration in the White House.

Other cases, he said, “have been stymied” by the PLCAA (Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act), an immunity law protecting gun manufacturers. But recently, a panel of judges on the Pennsylvania Superior Court deemed that law unconstitutional.

“So that’s provided us with an avenue to really go after the companies like Colt that floods the market with these AR-15s,” Bracken said.

The Superior Court, however, has granted re-argument for that case, Bracken acknowledged. But, he noted, one of the reasons re-argument was granted was because the United States intervened in the case.

“Now we have a new administration, and President Biden has been very clear that he is opposed to AR assault weapons being sold to the public, so who knows if they continue with that intervention,” he said.

Bracken hope this case will be a game-changer.

“There’s no reason for that weapon to be on the market,” he said. “Basically they were designed for our military so they would have the most lethal gun possible. Once the Vietnam War started to slow down and started to come to an end, Colt in particular decided, ‘We need to continue making money.’ So they put this on the civilian market.”

That decision was made for “profit over safety,” said Bracken. “There’s no real purpose to this gun so we’re hopeful this lawsuit will lead to change.”

Colt Manufacturing did not immediately respond to a request for comment. JN

Toby Tabachnick is managing editor for Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle where this article first appeared. It is a Jewish News-affiliated publication.