The families who lost little children in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 sued the gun makers. The case was thrown out of court, however, because in 2005 Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which sharply restricted lawsuits against gun sellers and makers by granting industry-wide immunity from blame when one of their products is used in a crime. The families appealed that decision, and today, the Connecticut Supreme court has ruled that the lawsuit can be returned to court, and may proceed.
The [Connecticut Supreme] court agreed with the lower court judge’s decision to dismiss claims that directly challenged the federal law shielding the gun companies from litigation, but found the case can move forward based on a state law regarding unfair trade practices.
Essentially, the plaintiffs’ claim is that
the AR-15-style Bushmaster used in the 2012 attack had been marketed as a weapon of war, invoking the violence of combat and using slogans like “Consider your man card reissued.”
Such messages reflected, according to the lawsuit, a deliberate effort to appeal to troubled young men like Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who charged into the elementary school and killed 26 people, including 20 first graders, in a spray of gunfire.
Specifically, the plaintiffs’ argue that
the companies were wrong to entrust an untrained civilian public with a weapon designed for maximizing fatalities on the battlefield.
Lawyers pointed out advertising — with messages of combat dominance and hyper-masculinity — that resonated with disturbed young men who could be induced to use the weapon to commit violence.
“Remington may never have known Adam Lanza, but they had been courting him for years,” Joshua D. Koskoff, one of the lawyers representing the families, told the panel of judges during oral arguments in the case in 2017.
None of this guarantees that the plaintiffs’ will win when the case finally gets tried. But this ruling is important for two reasons: First, it allows the plaintiff’s to have this issue tried, and so to delineate the boundaries of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Second, the answer to that question will lie, not with lobbyists, or legislators, but with a jury of Connecticut residents. As the Supreme Court wrote,
“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.”
When all is said and done, the ability to have our legal cases decided by a jury, is one of the great strengths of our Constitution.
This is an important decision, in a case which is not over yet.
Here is the NY Times article about this decision, from which the foregoing quotes were taken: Rojas, R. and Hussey, K. “Sandy Hook Massacre: Gun Makers Lose Major Ruling Over Liability,” NY Times, March 14, 2019