Commentary

Court Rules Sandy Hook Victims Can Sue Remington Over Marketing

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled yesterday that survivors and the estates of the 20 children and six teachers massacred in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012 can sue Remington, which made the assault-style rifle used by the shooter, for alleged wrongful marketing. 

The 4-3 decision overturns a lower court’s ruling that was based on a 2005 federal law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act

“The majority said that while most of the lawsuit’s claims were barred by the federal law, Remington could still be sued for alleged wrongful marketing under Connecticut law,” the AP’s Dave Collins reports.

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“‘The regulation of advertising that threatens the public’s health, safety, and morals has long been considered a core exercise of the states’ police powers,’ Justice Richard Palmer wrote for the majority, adding he didn’t believe Congress envisioned complete immunity for gun-makers,” Collins writes.

“The court’s decision was narrow, with the liability for gunmakers based on how they advertise their weapons rather than on the sale of them to third parties who then commit horrible crimes. In its ruling, the court said companies that market military-style guns to civilians as a way of killing enemies could be violating state fair trade laws,” Fred Barbash writes for the Washington Post.

“The families alleged, for example, that the Bushmaster product catalogue shows soldiers on patrol in jungles along with the phrase: ‘When you need to perform under pressure, Bushmaster delivers,’ and promotes the rifle to civilians as ‘the ultimate combat weapons system,’” Barbash continues.

Madison, N.C.-based Remington had no immediate comment on the ruling and told the AP it had “no timeline” for doing so.

“The NRA and other pro-Second Amendment groups have argued that the lawsuit, if successful, will expose the gun industry to ‘politically motivated predatory lawsuits’ and irrevocably harm the ability of manufacturers and dealers to operate,” Jack Crowe writes for National Review.

“Lawyers for the plaintiffs, a teacher who survived the 2012 attack and the families of nine children and adults who died in the shooting, made clear after oral arguments before the court in November 2017 that their immediate goal was access to what they hope is a trove of information about who Remington saw as the ultimate market for a semiautomatic styled after military weapons such as the M-16,” Mark Pazniokas writes for the Connecticut Mirror.

“‘We hope to get behind the closed doors of the meetings that Remington would have had,’ said Joshua Koskoff, a lead lawyer for the plaintiffs. ‘We hope to see the emails. We want to see the focus groups. We want to see the degree to which they deliberately were trying to ring the bells of users with the characteristics of an Adam Lanza.’” 

Lanza, the 20-year-old shooter, was said to be “singularly focused and obsessed with mass murders and spree killings,” according to unsealed FBI documents released in 2017, as Ray Sanchez reported for CNN.

“Lanza used a Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S rifle during the shooting spree, which ended when he shot himself. The rifle and two handguns -- found next to his body -- as well as an Izhmash Saiga-12 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun recovered in his car were legally purchased by his mother, Nancy Lanza. He killed her in their Newtown home before the school shootings,” Sanchez added.

“The decision represents a significant development in the long-running battle between gun control advocates and the gun lobby. And it stands to have wider ramifications, experts said, by charting a possible legal road map for victims’ relatives and survivors from other mass shootings who want to sue gun companies,” write Rick Rojas and Kristin Hussey for the New York Times.

“In the lawsuit, the families seized upon the marketing for the AR-15-style Bushmaster used in the 2012 attack, which invoked the violence of combat and used slogans like ‘Consider your man card reissued.’ Lawyers for the families argued that those messages reflected a deliberate effort to appeal to troubled young men like Adam Lanza,” Rojas and Hussey point out.

“This ruling has basically blown a very large hole in federal immunity for firearms manufacturers in lawsuits against them that arise out of the criminal misuse of the weapons they sell,” Georgia State University law professor Timothy Lytton, the author of a book about gun litigation, tells the Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Gershman and Cameron McWhirter.

The decision came hours before the massacre of 49 worshipers in and near two Muslim mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand was live-streamed on Facebook by a gunman using automatic weapons.

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