Law & the Courts

Connecticut Supreme Court Allows Sandy Hook Parents’ Lawsuit against Gun-Maker to Proceed

A woman places flowers at a memorial at a sign for Sandy Hook Elementary School in Sandy Hook, Conn., December 15, 2012. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

The Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday ruled narrowly in favor of the parents of children killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, reversing a lower-court judge who’d dismissed the families’ lawsuit against gun manufacturer Remington.

A superior-court judge in Bridgeport initially dismissed the lawsuit in 2016 on the grounds that Remington, which manufactured the assault rifle used to murder 26 people at the elementary school in 2012, is protected by a 2005 law that provides “broad immunity” to gun makers and dealers when their weapons are used in crimes.

Justice Richard Palmer, writing for the 43 majority, reversed that ruling Thursday, finding that the plaintiffs, which include nine victims’ families and one survivor, should be given the opportunity to demonstrate that Remington violated the law by marketing the AR-15 specifically to young people.

“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.” Justice Palmer wrote. “Accordingly, on the basis of that limited theory, we conclude that the plaintiffs have pleaded allegations sufficient to survive a motion to strike and are entitled to have the opportunity to prove their wrongful marketing allegations.”

Adam Lanza, then-20 years old, used his mother’s legally purchased Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle in the December 14, 2012 attack. Joshua Koskoff, who represents the plaintiffs, has argued that the weapon was marketed as a military-style weapon and, as such, appealed to young, violent consumers.

“The families’ goal has always been to shed light on Remington’s calculated and profit-driven strategy to expand the AR-15 market and court high-risk users, all at the expense of Americans’ safety,” Koskoff said Thursday. “Today’s decision is a critical step toward achieving that goal.”

Attorneys for Remington maintain that the company cannot be held liable under Connecticut’s “negligent entrustment” law, as the plaintiffs suggest, because the company had no idea the weapon would end up in Lanza’s hands. A firearm seller must know or be “given a reason to know that the buyer is likely to use the product to cause harm,” in order to establish a negligent-entrustment claim, James Vogts, a lawyer for Remington, told the Wall Street Journal.

The NRA and other pro-Second Amendment groups have argued that the lawsuit, if successful, will expose the gun industry to “politically motivated predatory lawsuits” and irrevocably harm the ability of manufacturers and dealers to operate.

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