Court Rules Gun Maker Can Be Sued Over Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting

Evarado Alatorre
Marcha 16, 2019

In a 5-4 vote, the USA state's Supreme Court said the lawsuit could proceed on the basis of state consumer protection laws.

The families of Sandy Hook school shooting victims have claimed another key court victory as they continue pursuing a lawsuit against the companies that manufactured and sold the weapon Adam Lanza used during the 2012 massacre. He accuses Remington of targeting younger, at-risk males through "militaristic marketing and astute product placement in violent first-person shooter games". An eventual ruling against Remington could establish legal precedent, opening doors for more lawsuits against gun manufacturers, and expose the company's communications about its marketing plans.

In defending the ruling, Justice Richard Palmer wrote, "The regulation of advertising that threatens the public's health, safety, and morals has always been considered a core exercise of the states' police powers". That 14-year-old decision shields gun manufacturers from liability when their products are used in crimes in most, but not all, instances.

The families argued, among other things, that the rifle's manufacturer and distributor negligently allowed and encouraged civilians to use a weapon suitable only for military and law enforcement use.

The Connecticut Supreme Court rejected Remington's claim that the families are barred from suing using state unfair-trade practice law.

While the court on Thursday reaffirmed that the gun maker enjoys protection under the act, it ruled that the plaintiffs, families of the nine victims of the massacre and a teacher who survived the bloodshed, are entitled to sue the companies for the alleged violation of marketing rules. "Today's decision is a critical step toward achieving that goal", said Josh Koskoff, one of the attorneys for the families, in a statement.

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Lanza used a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle during the shooting, which the plaintiffs argue is a similar weapon to the AR-15.

The case had been closely watched by advocates on both sides of the gun issue.

The 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA, has provided the USA firearms industry an nearly impenetrable defence against lawsuits by victims of mass shootings and gun violence, broadly shielding Remington and others such as American Outdoor Brands Corp, Sturm Ruger & Co and Vista Outdoor Inc from liability stemming from such incidents. Several groups, ranging from the NRA to emergency room doctors, submitted briefs to the court.

The 2005 federal law, named the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, has been cited by other courts that rejected lawsuits against gun makers and dealers in other high-profile shooting attacks, including the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting and the Washington, D.C., sniper shootings in 2002. It wasn't immediately clear whether Remington will ask the state court to reconsider or appeal to the US Supreme Court.

The Sandy Hook families had focused on a portion of their argument against Remington on "negligent entrustment", essentially saying that the company sold guns to civilians knowing they are unsafe outside of certain institutions like the military.

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