LOS ANGELES - A California state court has ruled that a lawsuit filed on behalf of a victim of the Saugus High School shooting against an online seller of kits and parts for homemade ghost guns — one of which was used in the 2019 mass shooting — can move forward.
The judge ruled that the lawsuit, filed on behalf of 16-year-old Mia Tretta, properly alleged facts that supported her claims against the online seller and its owner.
First responders at Saugus High School after a school shooting occurred Thursday, November 14, 2019. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)
"Today’s ruling brings us one step closer to the answers we believe that Mia and her family deserve," said Alla Lefkowitz, director of affirmative litigation for Everytown Law, the firm representing Tretta. "As we’ll continue to show the court, we believe this seller’s negligent sales practices contributed to the tragedy at Saugus High School and put Mia and the rest of the student body at risk, and we’re asking the court to hold it accountable for its actions."
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Tretta in December. It alleges that the shooter’s father was able to order the handgun kit used in the mass shooting online from 1911builders.com with no background check, despite being prohibited from purchasing a firearm because of his dangerous mental health history.
"By law, he was prohibited from owning firearms," Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in November of 2019 following the school shooting. "We had already seized and destroyed the firearms he had in his procession but he was able to re-arm himself and he had a cache of weapons in his home – 42 firearms in his home – several of them were ghost guns, kit guns, in addition to the one used in the murder-suicide at Saugus High School."
Ghost guns or kit guns are sold at gun shows, can be purchased in gun stores or online. The self-manufactured weapons are not registered and difficult to trace, law enforcement officials say. Once you combine a gun kit with access to Youtube, individuals can have everything they need to turn that chunk of metal into an untraceable firearm.
FOX 11 did a special investigative report in 2018 and found several instances where individuals who had been barred from buying a gun in California were able to purchase "kit guns," assemble them into fully functional weapons and use them to carry out deadly attacks.
"We're recovering ghost guns almost every single day," ATF Senior Special Agent David Hamilton told FOX 11 during that interview. "California has some very strict firearms laws, particularly in relation to assault weapons such as an AR-15, the trend for making ghost guns seem to have started in California, and it's moving nationwide as well as over the border."
The lawsuit names the owner and operator of 1911builders as the defendant in the litigation. The claim alleges that 1911builders was negligent and has created a public nuisance. It asks the court to order the website to stop selling ghost gun frames, receivers or kits unless and until they are in compliance with state and federal law, and it also seeks damages. It also states that neither 1911builders nor its operator has a federal firearms license.
The firearm used by the shooter in the Saugus was a 1911-style .45 caliber "Officer Frame" ghost gun, according to the claim.
Authorities said that on the morning of Nov. 14, 2019, surveillance video showed 16-year-old Nathan Berhow pull the weapon out of his backpack, shoot five students in the quad on campus before turning the gun on himself. The deadly attack was carried out in only 16-seconds.
The shooting claimed the lives of 15-year-old Gracie Anne Muehlberger and 14-year-old Dominic Blackwell. Three other students were also struck by gunfire, including the plaintiff in the lawsuit, Mia Tretta, who was 15 at the time.