Lawyers representing the families of the Sandy Hook school shooting victims had another chance to say why they believe gun companies should be held accountable in Connecticut Supreme Court on Tuesday, a month shy of the fifth anniversary of the shooting that killed 26 people, 20 of them children.
Since 2014, the victims’ families have been pursuing legal action against Remington, which produces the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle that 20-year-old Adam Lanza used in the shooting. The case was thrown out by a lower court last year, when a judge sided with Remington’s position that gunmakers are immune to the lawsuit because of a provision in the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
The act, signed by George W. Bush in 2005, largely prohibits lawsuits against gun manufacturers and distributors whose firearms are used in a criminal act.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, arguing for an exemption to the act through a claim of “negligent entrustment.” They argue that Remington knowingly marketed and sold the AR-15 to a particularly vulnerable group of young men. They also believe the sale of the gun to civilians is negligent because it is primarily “designed for our armed forces and engineered to deliver maximum carnage.”
“In the military, a weapon of this type is quite rightly subject to strict rules around its use and storage,” Ian Hockley, the parent of a Sandy Hook victim, said after the hearing. “The manufacturer of the Bushmaster takes no such precautions when unleashing their product into the civilian market.”
The attorneys also stated that they have enough reason to bring the case against Remington based on how the company markets the rifle, both in advertisements and with product placement in popular video games like “Call of Duty.” They argue that a trial, and the evidence that would be produced for one, will show that the company is directly marketing to this vulnerable group of people.
“We hope to get behind the doors of the closed meetings that Remington would have had. We hope to see the emails. We want to see the focus groups,” plaintiffs’ attorney Josh Koskoff said after the hearing. “We want to see the degree to which they deliberately were trying to ring the bells of users with the characteristics of an Adam Lanza.”
Defense attorneys argued that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act protects Remington and the other companies involved in the sale of the gun that ended up in Lanza’s hands from this exact kind of lawsuit. Defense attorney James Vogts stated that the lawsuit would require a reinterpretation of the law itself.
“No matter how tragic, no matter how much we wish those children and their teachers were not lost, their families had not suffered, the law needs to be applied dispassionately,” Vogts said in court. “Under the law … the manufacturer and the sellers of the firearm used by the criminal that day are not legally responsible for his crimes and the harm that he caused.”
Vogts stated that the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle is primarily used for hunting, target practice and home defense, not only for military use. In court, he argued that people most commonly use this type of rifle for deer hunting.
“They could not care less what happens to their guns once the cash is in the bank, showing an utter disregard for the lives this weapon takes and the families it destroys,” Hockley said after the hearing. “We, the plaintiff families of the victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre, have infinite patience to see justice done.”
The state Supreme Court will decide whether the case is valid enough to go to trial. It would be tried in Connecticut Superior Court with a trial by jury.