The Supreme Court on Tuesday denied gun manufacturing company Remington Arms’ motion to block a lawsuit brought against them by families of victims of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In opting not to hear Remington’s appeal, the court upheld the Connecticut Supreme Court’s precedent-setting ruling in March, which declared that the manufacturer of the Bushmaster AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle could be held legally liable for the 2012 massacre that killed 28 children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut. The justices did not offer comment along with their decision not to hear the case.
“The families are grateful that the Supreme Court upheld precedent and denied Remington’s latest attempt to avoid accountability,” Josh Koskoff, a lawyer for the Sandy Hook families, said on Tuesday, according to the Hartford Courant. “We are ready to resume discovery and proceed towards trial in order to shed light on Remington’s profit-driven strategy to expand the AR-15 market and court high-risk users at the expense of Americans’ safety.”
In March, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in a 4–3 vote that the lawsuit could proceed, challenging the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that has long shielded arms manufacturers from wrongful death lawsuits. The decision reversed a 2016 Connecticut Superior Court ruling which had dismissed the case. Sandy Hook families initially filed the lawsuit in 2014 on behalf of the estates of nine victims.
Gun control advocates across Connecticut reacted positively to the news, including Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, as well as organizations that aim to reduce gun violence.
“We are encouraged by the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the arguments from the gun manufacturers, and to allow the Sandy Hook families to seek justice and have their day in court,” wrote Jeremy Stein — Executive Director of the activist group Connecticut Against Gun Violence — in a statement to the News. “This is the first of many steps to changing the culture and to reiterate that the protection of innocent lives should outweigh protecting the gun industry.”
The case is drawing national attention for the precedent it sets in how gun manufacturers are legally implicated in the event of mass shootings. Due to the number of mass shootings in the United States in recent years, there has been more opportunity for manufacturers to face lawsuits. The Sandy Hook lawsuit, and this week’s decision by the Supreme Court, opens the door for similar legal action in response to mass shootings across the nation.
In March, the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision allowed the lawsuit against Remington to continue on the basis of the company’s advertising techniques, not because it sold weapons to the individual who executed the shooting. Lawyers for Sandy Hook families argued that Remington had used deceptive marketing practices when they sold the AR-15 used in the 2012 shooting, over-emphasizing the militaristic qualities of the gun. Upholding Connecticut’s decision, the Supreme Court sent a warning to gun manufacturers that they should market their products appropriately, lest they risk facing legal action.
Remington and other gun companies consider this restriction a violation of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which protects gun-makers from facing lawsuits following crimes committed with their weapons. Still, the narrow decision did not permit victims of gun violence to sue manufacturers simply because they sold the gun used during a shooting.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court decision is viewed as a significant step forward by gun control advocates who, for years, have sought to bring legal action against the gun industry following mass shootings. Accordingly, gun companies and organizations reacted negatively, criticizing the Supreme Court and claiming it was not following federal law.
“Lawsuits that deflect attention away from mental illness and criminals in order to blame inanimate objects won’t reduce violent crime or make anyone safer,” Amy Hunter, spokesperson for Jason Ouimet — executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action — wrote in an email to the News. “[The] firearm on which citizens and first responders rely isn’t the actual problem; the sociopath who steals and misuses a firearm against innocent people is the real problem.”
Remington spokesperson Eric Suarez declined to comment.
Now, the Sandy Hook families will be able to proceed with the case, and Remington will be forced to participate. According to the Hartford Courant, Koskoff expects to soon begin looking through documents to learn how Remington marketed the guns used in the 2012 shooting. Koskoff and his team began this work in 2014, but were forced to stop due to Remington’s attempt to end the suit. Given the narrowness of the court’s decision, documenting Remington’s marketing practices may be the only successful path for Sandy Hook families. Koskoff will have to prove that Remington’s advertising practices were a clear cause of the shooting, not just that Remington violated federal law in marketing.
Following the Sandy Hook shooting, Connecticut passed some of the nation’s most stringent gun-safety laws.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a bill outlawing ghost guns — which are made from parts purchased online and do not have a serial number — and a pair of measures increasing the safety of guns in storage. Gov. Ned Lamont reacted favorably to the Supreme Court decision.
“Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Sandy Hook families will have their day in court — a day to make their voices heard and a day to ensure that no other family has to endure the grief they have faced,” Lamont wrote in a Tuesday press release. “Today may not bring full closure for those impacted, but it is a step toward progress in their fight for justice.”
According to Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit organization that records data on mass shootings, there were 337 mass shootings in the United States in 2018.
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