Supreme Court Clears The Way For Newtown Families To Sue Gun Manufacturer

by Valerie Williams
Originally Published: 
John Moore/Getty

Supreme Court rules against gun manufacturer in favor of the families of Sandy Hook victims

The Supreme Court has cleared the way for families of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut to sue the manufacturer of the gun used to slaughter 20 first grade children and six educators. The court denied an appeal by the manufacturer and sided with the families so they can pursue legal action against the creators of the assault rifle that took 26 lives in a matter of minutes.

The gun manufacturer involved is Remington Arms Co., and they requested for the Supreme Court to consider their case after a lower court ruled in March 2019 that the families of Sandy Hook victims would be allowed to sue them over their marketing of the semiautomatic rifle Adam Lanza used in the horrifying massacre.

Nine families of Sandy Hook victims argued in the spring that the manufacturer, distributor, and seller of the Bushmaster AR-15 was negligent in marketing and selling the powerful weapon for civilian use when it’s really only appropriate for use by the military or police.

NPR reports that in Supreme Court filings, the nine families say Remington “published promotional materials that promised ‘military-proven performance’ for a ‘mission-adaptable’ shooter in need of the ‘ultimate combat weapons system.'” They also say Remington pushed a “lone gunman” narrative in their ads promoting the gun Lanza used, pointing specifically to an ad that promised users a very military-style experience. “Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered,” it said.

One of the families in the suit is that of first grader Ben Wheeler, who was killed in the shooting. His father, David Wheeler, told NPR that the lawsuit was to hold Remington responsible for the toxic messaging behind their ads for the Bushmaster. He pointed to one in particular that said, “Consider your man card reissued.”

“What kind of society allows manhood to be defined in this way?” he wondered.

“The families are grateful that the Supreme Court upheld precedent and denied Remington’s latest attempt to avoid accountability,” Josh Koskoff, the attorney representing the families said in a statement. “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.”

There is a law, enacted in 2005, protecting gun manufacturers from lawsuits when their weapons are used in crimes. It’s called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, and Sandy Hook families argued that Remington should not be protected by the law because they were accusing the company of violating Connecticut state laws in marketing the gun.

The nine families of Sandy Hook victims first filed a wrongful death suit against Remington over its marketing practices back in 2014. After working through the courts including today’s decision by the Supreme Court, the case will now be back in Connecticut Superior Court. Robert Spitzer, a gun policy expert and chairman of the political science department at the State University of New York at Cortland, cautions that the families being allowed to sue Remington doesn’t mean they will win in their bid for justice for their loved ones. “This simply means that the case can proceed under Connecticut state law, and it doesn’t mean that the plaintiffs will prevail,” he said.

So far, the justices of the Supreme Court haven’t explained why they denied Remington’s appeal.

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