Families of Uvalde school shooting victims sue Meta, Microsoft, gunmaker

Memorial crosses stand in front of Robb Elementary School, as U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announces the results of a review into the law enforcement response to a 2022 mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, U.S., January 18, 2024. REUTERS/Kaylee Greenlee Beal/ File Photo

(Reuters) - Families of the victims of the 2022 elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, filed two lawsuits on Friday against Instagram's parent company Meta, Activision Blizzard and its parent Microsoft and the gunmaker Daniel Defense, claiming they cooperated to market dangerous weapons to impressionable teens such as the Uvalde shooter.

Together, the wrongful death complaints argue that Daniel Defense – a Georgia-based gun manufacturer – used Instagram and Activision's video game Call of Duty to market its assault-style rifles to teenage boys, while Meta and Microsoft facilitated the strategy with lax oversight and no regard for the consequences.

Meta, Microsoft and Daniel Defense did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for the Entertainment Software Association, a lobbying group representing the video game industry, said many other countries have similar levels of video game playing but less gun violence than the United States.

"We are saddened and outraged by senseless acts of violence," the group said in a statement. "At the same time, we discourage baseless accusations linking these tragedies to video gameplay, which detract from efforts to focus on the root issues in question and safeguard against future tragedies."

In one of the deadliest school shootings in history, 19 children and two teachers were killed on May 24, 2022, when an 18-year-old gunman armed with a Daniel Defense rifle entered Robb Elementary School and barricaded himself inside adjoining classrooms with dozens of students.

The complaints were filed on the two-year anniversary of the massacre by Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder, the same law firm that reached a $73 million settlement with rifle manufacturer Remington in 2022 on behalf of families of children killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

The first lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, accuses Meta's Instagram of giving gun manufacturers "an unsupervised channel to speak directly to minors, in their homes, at school, even in the middle of the night," with only token oversight.

The complaint also alleges that Activision's popular warfare game Call of Duty "creates a vividly realistic and addicting theater of violence in which teenage boys learn to kill with frightening skill and ease," using real-life weapons as models for the game's firearms.

The Uvalde shooter played Call of Duty – which features, among other weapons, an assault-style rifle manufactured by Daniel Defense, according to the lawsuit – and visited Instagram obsessively, where Daniel Defense often advertised.

As a result, the complaint alleges, he became fixated on acquiring the same weapon and using it to commit the killings, even though he had never fired a gun in real life before.

The second lawsuit, filed in Uvalde County District Court, accuses Daniel Defense of deliberately aiming its ads at adolescent boys in an effort to secure lifelong customers.

"There is a direct line between the conduct of these companies and the Uvalde shooting," Josh Koskoff, one of the families' lawyers, said in a statement. "This three-headed monster knowingly exposed him to the weapon, conditioned him to see it as a tool to solve his problems and trained him to use it."

Daniel Defense is already facing other lawsuits filed by families of some victims. In a 2022 statement, CEO Marty Daniel called such litigation "frivolous" and "politically motivated."

Earlier this week, families of the victims announced a separate lawsuit against nearly 100 state police officers who participated in what the U.S. Justice Department has concluded was a botched emergency response. The families also reached a $2 million settlement with the city of Uvalde.

Several other suits against various public agencies remain pending.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Katie Paul in New York and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco, Editing by Deepa Babington)

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