Highland Park survivors sue gunmaker Smith & Wesson after July 4 parade mass shooting

A memorial to the seven people killed and others injured in Monday's Fourth of July mass shooting grows at a veterans memorial Wednesday, July 6, 2022, in Highland Park, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Survivors of the Highland Park Fourth of July shooting shared their experiences Wednesday afternoon during a news conference announcing lawsuits filed on their behalf against gunmaker Smith & Wesson.

Lauren Bennett, who was at the parade with her husband, their 6- and 9-year-old sons, her parents and in-laws, described how quickly their lives changed.

“To understand my ordeal please envision a place where you feel most happy, most safe,” said Bennett, one of 48 people injured in the mass shooting. “And then, if you can, please imagine the unimaginable because that is what we experienced that day.”

Bennett described the feeling of the hot metal bullet burning her skin and tearing through her body. She said she remembers fleeing the gunfire with her husband who was using his body to shield their sons.

“We will carry the most horrendous images with us for the rest of our lives,” Bennett said. “My family and I are calling for full accountability for all those who contributed to the fear, physical and emotional pain and the unthinkable nightmares that now define our lives.”

The lawsuits claim Smith & Wesson illegally targeted advertisements for firearms at young men at risk of violence -- including the 22-year-old gunman accused of opening fire at the Highland Park parade.

Representatives for Smith & Wesson, based in Springfield, Massachusetts, did not immediately respond to a request from The Associated Press for comment Wednesday.

The lawsuits allege Smith & Wesson ads mimic the shooter’s-eye view popularized by video games, use imagery of apparent military or law enforcement personnel and emphasize the M&P15 rifle’s combat features.

The strategy of the lawsuits is similar to the approach used by relatives of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School killings, who in February reached a $73 million settlement with the firearm company that produced the rifle used in that attack. That was believed to be the largest payment by a gunmaker related to a mass killing.

In that case, the Sandy Hook families accused Remington of violating Connecticut consumer protection law by marketing its AR-15-style weapons to young men already at risk of committing violence, successfully circumventing federal law that has given gunmakers broad protection from past lawsuits.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.