Texas judge lets Sutherland Springs church shooting victims sue gun retailer

/ CBS/AP

San Antonio — A judge has ruled that families and victims of a mass shooting at a Texas church can move forward with a lawsuit against a sporting goods chain where the gunman bought the weapon and ammunition used in the massacre.

The decision Monday by state District Judge Karen Pozza in San Antonio clears the way for families of the November 2017 Sutherland Springs shooting victims to potentially bring their case against Academy Sport & Outdoors before a jury.

The retailer is where gunman Devin Kelley bought an assault-style rifle used in the church shooting that killed 26 people. Kelley died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after he was chased by bystanders after the massacre.

Investigators search for Texas church gunman's motive

Pozza did not offer an explanation of her decision to block the gun retailer's request to throw out the lawsuit, reports the Dallas Morning News.

The plaintiffs reportedly argue that the chain was liable for the shooting because employees at its retailer in San Antonio sold Kelley a high-capacity magazine that was illegal in his home state of Colorado.

The two sides reportedly sparred at a hearing Thursday over whether the federal definition of a firearm includes any magazine sold with it, and whether a Colorado law that bans the sale of high-capacity magazines applies to Colorado residents who make the purchase in Texas.

The chain's attorney Janet Militello argued state and federal laws bar the company from being held liable for Kelley's "evil acts," the paper reports.

"There was a horrible tragedy," Militello reportedly told the judge. "Nobody thinks that this should be ignored. But Academy is not responsible."

Lorenzo Flores (L) and Terrie Smith at a line of crosses in remembrance of those killed in the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 9, 2017. Reuters

Some families have also separately sued the U.S. Air Force over failing to report Kelley's past crimes to a federal database. Kelley was an Air Force veteran who was discharged in 2014 for bad conduct after he pleaded guilty to two counts of domestic violence the previous year.

That discharge should have prevented him from passing the background check that allowed him to buy firearms, CBS Evening News reported, but Kelley's name was not reported to the National Criminal Information Center for inclusion in the database.

First published on February 4, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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