A major blow has been dealt to the firearms industry as the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that Remington can be sued and potentially held liable in the 2012 mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The ruling advances a suit brought by the estates of nine victims of the attack. The shooter, Adam Lanza, used a Bushmaster AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle, made by Remington, to kill 28 people, including 20 young children.
According to court documents, the Bushmaster used had been sold to Lanza’s mother and shared with Adam, who was 20 at the time of the attack. The lawsuit states, “The number of lives lost in those 264 seconds was made possible by the shooter’s weapon of choice.” It continues on to say that “Plaintiffs seek nothing more and nothing less than accountability” for selling and marketing the weapon for civilian use.
The court’s 4-to-3 decision was based on how gun manufacturers advertise their weapons rather than on the sale of them to third parties who use them to commit 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. The families alleged, for example, that the Bushmaster product catalogue promotes the rifle to civilians as “the ultimate combat weapons system.” Such use of the Bushmaster or any weapon in that way would be illegal.
There is a federal law, backed by the National Rifle Association, that immunizes gun manufacturers from liability for the crimes committed with their weapons. Connecticut’s high court said that the law had exceptions, and that one of them was meant for state consumer protection laws. In explaining why the federal law does not apply, the court said, “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.” An appeal of the ruling is likely, given the stakes involved.