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CT high court: Gunmaker Remington may be sued for Sandy Hook shooting

15 March 2019

Pictured are flowers at Sandy Hook.

The decision says that the families may pursue one of their specific claims in the case: that Remington, the manufacturer of Bushmaster's version of the AR-15 rifle used during the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, knowingly marketed the gun for use by people to "carry out offensive, military style combat missions against their perceived enemies".

[W] e conclude that the trial court properly determined that, although most of the plaintiffs' claims should have been dismissed, PLCAA does not bar the plaintiffs' wrongful marketing claims.

State law does not permit advertisements that encourage criminal behavior, according to the decision.

Connecticut's child advocate said Lanza's severe and deteriorating mental health problems, his preoccupation with violence and access to his mother's legal weapons "proved a recipe for mass murder".

It marks another case involving a 2005 federal law that generally shields gun makers and manufacturers from liability for crimes committed involving their products.

Remington on Thursday did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Connecticut State Police officer holds up a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle, the same make and model of gun used by Adam Lanza in the Sandy Hook School shooting at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Conn., Jan. 28, 2013.

The plaintiffs in CT include a survivor and relatives of nine people killed in the massacre.

Josh Koskoff, one of the lawyers for the victims' families, said in a statement the families were grateful for the court's rejection of the gun industry's bid for complete immunity.

"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. Several groups, ranging from the National Rifle Association to emergency room doctors, submitted briefs to the court.

In 2016, a state superior court judge had cited the 2005 law, known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, in dismissing the Sandy Hook case.

Judge Bellis concluded in 2016 that such a breathtakingly broad understanding of negligent entrustment is at odds with CT common law and with the PLCAA, which defines the cause of action as "the supplying of a qualified product by a seller for use by another person when the seller knows, or reasonably should know, the person to whom the product is supplied is likely to, and does, use the product in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical injury to the person or others". The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed with Bellis: "We expressly reject the plaintiffs' theory that, merely by selling semiautomatic rifles-which were legal at the time-to the civilian population, the defendants became responsible for any crimes committed with those weapons". "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 ruling stated.

Michael Moreland, a professor at Villanova Law School in Pennsylvania, said he expected gun victims to face a hard legal battle, given the broad federal protection for gun manufacturers. The majority said that while most of the lawsuit's claims were barred by the federal law, Remington could still be sued for alleged wrongful marketing under CT law.

CT high court: Gunmaker Remington may be sued for Sandy Hook shooting