The Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday said a lawsuit challenging how Remington Arms marketed the rifle used in the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting can proceed, overturning a lower court’s dismissal of the case.
In a 4-3 opinion, the court ruled that families of victims of the Newtown massacre can challenge whether Remington violated state trade practices in how it marketed the AR-15-style rifle used in the shooting.
“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.
A state superior court judge had dismissed the lawsuit in 2016, citing a law Congress passed in 2005 that generally shields gun makers from liability for crimes committed involving their products.
Courts have dismissed other similar wrongful death lawsuits on the grounds that firearms companies are shielded by the law, known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
On Thursday, the Connecticut justices ruled that, while the lower court was correct in dismissing many of the plaintiffs’ claims, they should be allowed to proceed with arguments on whether Remington’s marketing of the Bushmaster AR-15-style firearm violated state trade practices.
“It falls to a jury to decide whether the promotional schemes alleged in the present case rise to the level of illegal trade practices and whether fault for the tragedy can be laid at their feet,” Justice Palmer wrote.
The families of nine victims and a survivor of the massacre had brought the lawsuit, arguing that Remington should be held accountable.
“The families’ goal has always been to shed light on Remington’s calculated and profit-driven strategy to expand the AR-15 market and court high-risk users, all at the expense of Americans’ safety. Today’s decision is a critical step toward achieving that goal,” said Josh Koskoff, an attorney for the families.
Remington has invoked the 2005 law in arguing that the case should be dismissed and has denied wrongdoing.
A spokesman for the company told The Associated Press on Thursday that they have no timeline for commenting on the subject.
But the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the leading trade group for the firearms and ammunition industry, said the majority’s opinion was based on an “overly broad interpretation” of an exception to the law.
The foundation “both respectfully disagrees with and is disappointed by the court’s majority decision,” the group said.
The case had been closely watched by advocates on both sides of the gun issue, and gun control advocates claimed a win.
“This should be a wake-up call to the gun industry that it is not immune from accountability,” said Eric Tirschwell, litigation director at the group Everytown for Gun Safety.
Gunman Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle to kill 20 students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in December 2012 before killing himself.
Alan M. Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, said the court appears to have grasped at a “single straw” in connecting advertising to what Lanza did.
“This ruling strains logic, if not common sense,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “Even hinting that the killer was motivated in some way by an advertising message is so far out in the weeds that it may take a map for the court to find its way back.”
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