Subway Victim Sues Gun Maker Over Attack That ‘Changed My Life Forever’
Ilene Steur was about halfway through her morning commute to her real-estate job when smoke suddenly began to fill her subway car, a man seats away began firing shots, and she was struck by a bullet in her buttocks.
She was critically wounded in the April 12 attack, one of 30 people hurt during the shooting on an N train that rocked New York and was the worst crime in the city’s public transit system in decades.
On Tuesday Ms. Steur, 49, filed a federal lawsuit in Brooklyn, arguing that the manufacturer of the firearm used in the attack should be held liable for the chaos that unfolded in the Sunset Park neighborhood.
The suit accuses Glock, one of the nation’s largest gunmakers, of improperly marketing its firearms with an emphasis on their high capacity, their easy concealment, and other features that “appeal to purchasers with criminal intent.” The company, whose headquarters are in Austria, has also failed to “adopt the most basic policies and practices” to stop firearms from falling into the wrong hands, the lawsuit argues.
“Gun manufacturers do not live in a bubble,” said Mark D. Shirian, one of Ms. Steur’s lawyers. “They are aware that their marketing strategies are empowering purchasers with ill intent and endangering the lives of innocent people. This lawsuit seeks to hold the gun industry accountable.”
The gun manufacturer did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a request for comment on the case. But Glock executives have previously defended the company’s sales policies.
The lawsuit comes as the firearms industry is under renewed scrutiny from politicians and the public after high-profile mass shootings this month in Buffalo, where 10 people were killed at a supermarket, and Uvalde, Tex., the site of the deadliest school massacre since the Sandy Hook killings in 2012.
In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul has sought to tighten the state’s relatively tough gun laws, calling for legislators to raise the minimum age to purchase AR-15-style weapons from 18 to 21. Lawmakers passed a separate, first-of-its-kind law last year allowing civil suits against gun manufacturers and dealers for improper marketing or sales.
The filing Tuesday was brought under those provisions, which classified companies’ poor practices as a nuisance that threatens public safety. The argument permitted by the law aims to circumvent a 2005 federal measure that offers firearm companies far-reaching immunity from being sued by victims and their relatives.
The New York legislation was vigorously challenged by the gun industry. Companies and organizations including Glock, Smith & Wesson and the National Shooting Sports Foundation argued in a December suit that the new law was unconstitutional and too vague.
A federal district judge in Albany tossed their case last week, writing that “a state statute establishing liability for improper sale or marketing of firearms is not an obstacle to any congressional objective” of the 2005 law.
Ms. Steur’s suit, which was first reported by the New York Daily News, argues that Glock has endangered public safety by recklessly marketing guns through advertisements and placement in movies and other entertainment.
Frank R. James, the man charged with committing a terrorist attack on a mass transit system, had used a 9-millimeter pistol called a Glock 17 that he legally bought in Columbus, Ohio, in 2011, federal prosecutors have said. The weapon jammed after he fired 33 shots, and no one died.
Glock’s firearms began spreading in the United States around the late 1980s, and were quickly adopted as a weapon of choice by police departments for their ease of use. But Ms. Steur’s lawyers said that the company began to intentionally oversaturate the market, oversupplying law enforcement. The manufacturer then encouraged the police to make trade-ins for newer guns, and resold the old ones at a higher price through pawn shops and other small dealers.
They said that while federal officials have provided the manufacturer with names of distributors who have sold guns that were used in crimes, the company “has ignored the information” and retained the same approach to marketing and distribution.
The lawsuit resembles another that relatives of Sandy Hook shooting victims filed against Remington, which manufactured the AR-15 style Bushmaster rifle used in that massacre. They argued that the company’s marketing of the weapon was meant to appeal to troubled young men, in violation of Connecticut consumer law. That case was settled for $73 million in February, the largest and most significant agreement since the 2005 legal shield was enacted.
One of Ms. Steur’s lawyers, Sanford Rubenstein, said Tuesday that at a time when mass shootings are continuing and gun violence remains elevated from prepandemic levels in many cities, “those who manufacture and distribute guns have a moral responsibility” to help fix the problem.
Mr. James, 62, pleaded not guilty in federal court this month. Mr. James, who has been held without bail at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, could spend life in prison if convicted of the terrorism count. He also faces a separate charge for the use of the firearm, which carries a 10-year minimum sentence.
Ms. Steur was shot in her buttocks in the attack, suffering a break in her sacrum, a flat, triangular bone at the base of the spine. Seven weeks later, her lawyers said that she has continued receiving mental health assistance. She told the Daily News that she fears returning to the transit system, and worries about remaining in New York.
Her physical recovery will also be an extended process. She has tried to work from home “because it keeps her mind off her injuries,” her lawyers said, but is largely unable to leave her house. She also requires a colostomy bag, and still needs to undergo colon surgery.
In a statement, Ms. Steur said that the attack “changed my life forever — physically, mentally and emotionally.”
She added: “There has to be better control of who gets their hands on these guns.”