The Connecticut Supreme Court said Thursday that the families of victims of the 2012 Newtown Elementary School shooting can move forward with a lawsuit against the gunmaker Remington Arms, the company that makes the rifle used in the shooting. The state’s top court overturned a ruling from a lower court that had blocked the lawsuit.
The 4-to-3 ruling says a jury should decide whether Remington violated the state’s consumer protection law when it marketed the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle to civilians. It’s the furthest a lawsuit involving a gun manufacturer has gone since Congress passed a law in 2005 that shields gun manufacturers from liability in shootings. Remington argued the suit was prohibited by that law.Those lawsuits rarely make it before a jury, which is why the case had Adam Skaggs on the edge of his seat.
“We’ve been waiting for a decision from the Connecticut Supreme Court for seemingly an eternity.”
Skaggs argued before the court two years ago on behalf of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. And he’s happy his argument is almost the exact argument the majority justices made allowing the lawsuit to move forward.
“What plaintiffs have complained about here is that they’re marketing these guns to be used for essentially combat purposes, to be used for tactical purposes against other human beings. Unfortunately that’s what we’ve seen happen in Sandy Hook, that’s what we’ve seen happen in mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting across the country.”
David Wheeler, whose son Ben was one of 20 children to die in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, is one of the family members of the nine victims who joined the suit.
“There is a reason that this particular consumer product is the one used by people who want to inflict the most damage. That reason very likely partially resides at the feet of the manufacturers and their advertising and marketing policies.”
Wheeler and other plaintiffs say Remington’s marketing glorified the Bushmaster, which has been used in other mass shootings, including the 2017 shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people. Attorney Joshua Koskoff says that marketing was often directed at young people.
“There are the advertisements that feature a lone gunman on an empty battlefield. There are the images that promote the masculinity of the weapon that is meant to be conferred by simply buying an AR-15.”
Bill Sherlach’s wife Mary was a school psychologist who died in the shooting. He says he hopes the lawsuit could force Remington to turn over internal communications.
“This is another step forward to the discovery process where we can peel back the layers of the corporate entity of Remington and find out exactly what their goals were and what their objectives were behind the marketing of this particular product.”
Attorney Larry Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation in Newtown, Connecticut, doesn’t buy the lawsuit’s unfair advertising argument.
“You wouldn’t blame a car manufacturer for a drunk driving accident by somebody and then try to say somehow the advertising by Ford showing the car driving off-road or on a racetrack somehow is responsible for what a drunk driver did.”
Keane says Remington may ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision. He says it may violate the so-called immunity statute Congress passed in 2005, which "is intended to prevent lawsuits from proceeding at all.”
Koskoff said last year the families should have their day in court.
”They deserve nothing less than having their questions answers, than being able to look into what decisions Remington made that led to Sandy Hook and being able to have their case brought before a jury.”
The Connecticut Supreme Court allowed the wrongful marketing charge to move forward but did block some other parts of the families’ lawsuit.
Adam Skaggs of the Giffords Center says he expects Remington to fight the decision.
Remington had no comment.
This report comes from the New England News Collaborative: Eight public media companies, including The Public's Radio, coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.