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DOJ Appealing TX Church Gun Ruling Despite Criticism By Survivors

The Justice Department is proceeding with its appeal of a lawsuit that found the federal government partially responsible for the 2017 mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Tx. Critics say the move could undermine the Biden administration’s position on background checks and tougher restrictions on guns, the Washington Post reports. Twenty-six people were killed and another 20 injured in the shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. In a July 2021 ruling, a federal judge found that the government was “60 percent liable” for the attack because it did not submit records that should have prevented the shooter from buying guns, among other missteps. In February, the judge ordered the government to pay the victims more than $230 million in damages. DOJ said it planned to appeal, a move that has left survivors struggling to pay expensive, ongoing medical bills related to their injuries and ongoing trauma.


In October, the Justice Department entered settlement talks with attorneys representing families of those killed and injured in the attack. Washington attorney Kenneth Feinberg, a mediator known for overseeing the compensation fund for 9/11 victims, was tapped to lead the negotiations. Feinberg had previously helped resolve two other lawsuits filed by mass shooting victims against the federal government. In October 2021, the Justice Department agreed to pay $88 million to families of nine people killed in the 2015 shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., to settle claims that background check errors allowed the gunman to buy a weapon. Later, the government agreed to pay $127.5 million to the families of those killed in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., over claims that the FBI failed to act on tips about the gunman. After weeks of talks between DOJ and attorneys for the Sutherland Springs survivors, the government ended mediation. The move stunned the families and gun control advocates who have urged the Biden administration to settle the case. They say the appeal risks the appearance of “hypocrisy” by trying to avoid accountability for government’s mistakes as President Biden has urged tougher gun restrictions.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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