A federal lawsuit filed in New York by a victim of a Bronx hospital shooting calls for ending sales of AR-15 rifles to civilians, adding a new front in the national debate surrounding the weapon of choice in mass shootings, including at a Florida high school last month.
The lawsuit was filed by Dr. Justin Timperio, 29, a medical resident who was seriously injured in June 2017 by a gunman with an AR-15 — purchased at a Schenectady gun shop — who killed one doctor and injured five other people at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center. It aims in part to be a test case weighing the Founding Fathers’ intent in crafting the Second Amendment against George Washington’s idea that individuals need to give up a share of their liberty to preserve the rest.
The AR-15 rifle has been used in many shootings across the country, including at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; and the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“It is time to recognize that the gun advocate’s slogan of ‘Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People,’ does not justify the mass deaths and injuries from AR-15s, modified or not, and finally conclude that an AR-15 firearm serves no rational purpose to exist in our society today,” the lawsuit states.
The suit seeks monetary damages from the hospital for failing to provide a safe environment for its employees and patients. It also alleges negligence by Upstate Guns and Ammo, the firearms dealer on State Street in Schenectady that sold the modified AR-15 rifle used in the shooting.
Dr. Henry Bello, who had resigned from the hospital in 2015 amid a sexual harassment charge and blamed doctors there for destroying his career, legally bought the gun about a week before his rampage. He killed himself in the aftermath of the June 30 attack.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Timperio recounted how he was shot through the liver while filing medical notes on the hospital’s 16th floor. He and a female resident, who had been shot in the neck, narrowly escaped past Bello as he was setting the nearby nursing station on fire.
Bello had turned to them, a wall of flames towering behind him. “He was shouting after us, come back here, cursing at us,” Timperio said. “I was certain I was going to die.”
By the time Timperio and his colleague made it to the 11th floor, where security guards helped them, Bello had fatally shot himself on the 16th floor.
New York state has an assault-weapon ban that prevents unmodified versions of the AR-15 from being sold. But gun dealers and manufacturers can modify the weapon to get around the ban. Upstate Guns and Ammo, had legally sold the modified weapon to Bello, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said last July.
New York City’s assault-rifle ban is stricter than elsewhere in the state. As a result, Timperio’s lawsuit charges the gun dealer should have called the New York Police Department to check whether Bello, as a New York City resident, held a special permit that would be required of owners of rifles in the city.
There does not appear to be a specific legal statute requiring such a call be placed. However, Arnold Kriss, Timperio’s lawyer, said he believes the gun store had an obligation to do so under general gun laws that require weapons be sold safely, according to local ordinances.
Kriss said that to his knowledge this issue has not been litigated, and he is hoping to set precedent with the case.
“It will be up to a judge and hopefully, a jury, to make the final determination about whether the firearms dealer had a duty to make that phone call,” he said.
Michael Murphy, a lawyer in Albany, representing Upstate Guns and Ammo, said he had no comment.
The lawsuit also questioned whether the appropriate background check was done before hiring Bello, and it alleges the hospital was negligent in permitting Bello to retain his hospital badge after he resigned in 2015, despite concerns about his aggressive behavior with the staff.
On the day of the shooting, Bello was wearing his badge prominently on his white lab coat, Timperio recalled. Bello entered the hospital around 2:45 p.m., wearing a hooded sweatshirt under his lab coat despite the summer heat. He was carrying a box large enough to hide a rifle in, as well as a juice container filled with gasoline, police said.
A spokesman for Bronx-Lebanon Hospital declined to comment, citing the litigation.
After being shot, Timperio spent 10 days intubated and in a coma. Bullets shot from an AR-15 can result in particularly brutal injuries, and in his case, after the bullet passed through his liver, it ricocheted through his stomach and intestines before exiting through his right thigh.
Timperio, a Canadian citizen who will return to a medical residency later this year, said he still has general nerve pain, as well as pain near the scars left by five surgeries. He said he doesn’t know if his condition will worsen to where he will not be able to work; it is for that reason he said he is suing for cash damages.
He also is hoping to use the lawsuit to push hospitals to improve security. But he hesitated before saying he was angry at Bronx-Lebanon, calling that a strong word.
“I wish that people that go to a hospital for medical care don’t get shot, and that doctors don’t get shot,” he said. “Whether you want to call that anger or hope is up to you.”