The Connecticut Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the firearms industry on Thursday, clearing the way for a lawsuit to move forward against the companies that manufactured and sold the semiautomatic rifle used by the gunman in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The ruling allows the lawsuit brought by victims’ relatives to go to trial, which could force gun companies to turn over internal communications that they have fiercely fought to keep private and provide a revealing — and possibly damaging — glimpse into how the industry operates.
The 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.
Justices wrote in the majority opinion that “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.”
The decision represents a significant development in the long-running battle between gun control advocates and the gun lobby.
The ruling validates the novel strategy lawyers for the victims’ families used as they sought to find a route around the vast protections in federal law that guard gun companies from litigation when their products are used to commit a crime.
The victims’ relatives had faced long odds as they argued that the gun companies bore some responsibility for the horrific attack.
The lawsuit argued 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. The attack traumatized the nation and made Newtown, Conn., the small town where it happened, a rallying point in the broader debate over gun violence.
Among those who lobbied in support of the lawsuit were gun violence prevention groups, emergency doctors who treated patients wounded by assault rifle fire and a statewide association of school superintendents.
Many gun-rights groups also raised their concerns, including the National Rifle Association, which contended in its brief that allowing the case to move ahead stood to “eviscerate” the gun companies’ legal protections.
The ruling comes as yet another twist in the lawsuit’s circuitous path through the court system, one that continued far longer than many, including legal experts and the families, had initially expected.
The ruling had been delayed after Remington, the manufacturer and one of the nation’s oldest gun makers, filed for bankruptcy last year as its sales declined and debts mounted.
The lawsuit, brought by family members of nine people who were killed and a teacher who was shot and survived, was originally filed in 2014, then moved to federal court, where a judge ordered that it be returned to the state level.
The families were given a glimmer of hope when a State Superior Court judge, Barbara N. Bellis, permitted the case to approach a trial before she ultimately dismissed it. She found that the claims fell “squarely within the broad immunity” provided by federal law.
In 2005, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which restricts lawsuits against gun sellers and makers by granting industrywide immunity from blame when one of their products is used in a crime. Lawmakers behind the measure cited a need to foil what they described as predatory and politically driven litigation.
The law does allow exceptions for sale and marketing practices that violate state or federal laws and instances of so-called negligent entrustment, in which a gun is carelessly given or sold to a person posing a high risk of misusing it.
In the lawsuit, the families pushed to broaden the scope to include the manufacturer, Remington, which was named along with a wholesaler and a local retailer in the suit.
The lawsuit said 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. The weapon used by Mr. Lanza had been legally purchased by his mother, Nancy Lanza, whom he also killed.
Lawyers representing the gun companies argued that the claims raised in the lawsuit were specifically the kind that law inoculated them against. They said that agreeing with the families’ arguments would require amending the law or ignoring how it had been applied in the past.
James B. Vogts, a lawyer for Remington, said during oral arguments that the shooting “was a tragedy that cannot be forgotten.”
“But no matter how tragic,” he added, “no matter how much we wish those children and their teachers were not lost and those damages not suffered, the law needs to be applied dispassionately.”
Or just shoot them, too, and get all that as inheritance.
Does "military style" mean "rifle with a pistol grip"?
one or more of the following components:
- a military pattern free-standing pistol grip.
The father of a Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim has been found dead, having apparently taken his own life, police say.
Newtown, Connecticut, police said Jeremy Richman was found in his office building on Monday.
The 49-year-old was the father of six-year-old Avielle, one of 20 children killed in the December 2012 shooting.
Police said they expect a post-mortem examination from the medical examiner later on Monday.
"This is a heartbreaking event for the Richman family and the Newtown Community as a whole," Newtown Police spokesman Lt Aaron Bahamonde said in a statement.
"The police department's prayers are with the Richman family right now, and we ask that the family be given privacy in this most difficult time."
The department will not reveal "the method or any other details of the death" except that it "does not appear to be suspicious".
In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, one of the deadliest in US history, Mr Richman and his wife, Jennifer Hensel, started the Avielle Foundation, which seeks to prevent violence through brain science research, community engagement and education.
Mr Richman had been advocating for fixes to the mental health care system, and left his job as a pharmaceutical researcher to pursue that mission, the Hartford Courant reported.
Last week, he had spoken at Florida Atlantic University about how educators could identify mental illness and prevent school shootings.
The news of Mr Richman's death follows the apparent suicides of two teenage survivors of the February 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
A total of 17 students and teachers died in the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Nineteen-year-old Sydney Aiello took her own life last week after suffering from survivor's guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to CBS Miami.
She had been a high school student at the time of the shooting and lost her friend, Meadow Pollack, in the attack.
A second Stoneman Douglas pupil apparently took his own life on Saturday, police say. They have not named the student.
Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said on Sunday that parents and organisations across the county were discussing what could be done to help children "throughout the county cope with trauma and depression".
but he didn't respond to questions, he just ranted.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday rejected a bid by gun rights activists to put on hold a ban by President Donald Trump’s administration on “bump stock” gun attachments that enable semi-automatic weapons to be fired rapidly.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor has not yet acted on another similar request. The ban goes into effect on Tuesday but lower courts have yet to rule on an appeals brought by gun rights activists in Michigan and the U.S. capital.
Trump pledged to ban the devices soon after a gunman used them to shoot and kill 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas in October 2017. The Justice Department on Dec. 18 announced plans to implement the policy.
A Washington-based federal district court judge in February upheld the ban, prompting gun rights advocates to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That court heard oral arguments on Friday but has not yet ruled. The appeals court, however, say that the ban cannot go into effect in relation to the specific individuals and groups challenging it.
The action by Roberts concerned only the Washington case. The challengers in the Washington case include individual gun owners and gun rights groups such as the Firearms Policy Foundation and Florida Carry Inc.
In the Michigan case, a federal district court judge last week ruled in favor of the administration. The challengers include individuals and the gun rights group Gun Owners of America. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday refused to put the ban on hold pending appeal.
Sotomayor is now weighing an emergency request in that case.
On the day the administration announced plans to put the policy in place, gun rights advocates sued in federal court to challenge it. They have argued that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) lacks the authority to equate bump stocks with machine guns under decades-old law.
One of the laws at the center of the legal dispute was written more than 80 years ago, when Congress restricted access to machine guns during the heyday of American gangsters’ use of “tommy guns.”