In a landmark ruling on Thursday, Connecticut’s top court has given the go-ahead to a lawsuit by the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting, which blames the manufacturer of the AR-15 style rifle used in the massacre.
The Connecticut state Supreme Court narrowly overturned the 2016 decision of a lower court that threw out the lawsuit, arguing that the defendants, arms manufacturer Remington and the distributors of the rifle, are exempted from responsibility under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). The PLCAA passed by Congress in 2005 relieves weapon manufacturers from liability in gun violence crimes.
While the court on Thursday reaffirmed that the gun maker enjoys protection under the act, it ruled that the plaintiffs, families of the nine victims of the massacre and a teacher who survived the bloodshed, are entitled to sue the companies for alleged violation of marketing rules.
The lawsuit argues that Remington violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) when it aggressively promoted its semi-automatic Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle to civilians. The plaintiffs took particular issue with Remington’s marketing of high-capacity magazines.
The issue was thrust back into the center of the national gun control debate after the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting. Last month, a bill to outlaw high-capacity magazines, typically defined as magazines that are able to hold more than 10 rounds, was reintroduced in Congress. However, in Connecticut and several other states, they have been banned since April, 2013. It is a felony in Connecticut to possess these types of magazines if obtained after that date.
The lawsuit points out that even before the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012, the AR-15 style rifle was notorious as a symbol of mass shootings.
“Assault rifles like the Bushmaster XM15-E2S had been used to kill in department stores and fast food chains, at offices and homecoming parties, on courthouse steps, and in schools,” it states, accusing Remington and its co-defendants of turning a blind eye to the “unreasonable risks associated with selling assault rifles under these circumstances.”
The lawsuit has reignited the debate on whether gunman Adam Lanza’s obsession with violent video games was a major contributing factor in his decision to go on a shooting rampage in real life. Back then, it was revealed that Lanza had scored over 83,000 “kills” on his favorite video game, 22,000 of them headshots.
The plaintiffs argue that marketing the rifle through video games was another example of unscrupulous advertising practices in which the company engaged.
Justice Richard Powers, who heard the case in Connecticut, sided with the plaintiffs as he ruled that their allegations are a valid basis for the lawsuit to be returned to a lower court.
“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,” Powers said.
The decision was hailed by the lawyers for the plaintiffs as “a crucial step” towards exposing “Remington’s calculated and profit-driven strategy to expand the AR-15 market…at the expense of Americans’ safety.”
The company has argued that it cannot be held responsible for Lanza’s actions since it is in no position to assess the mental state of its end consumer. The lawsuit will now allow the plaintiffs to gain access to internal Remington documents that could shed light on its advertising practices.
Adam Lanza killed his mother and then went on to gun down 26 people at the elementary school in Newton, Connecticut, in 2012, before taking his own life.
The shooting foreshadowed financial troubles for Remington, an American arms manufacturer with a history going back two centuries. In March last year, shortly after another high-profile school shooting in Parkland, Florida, it filed for bankruptcy protection. However, it has since recovered and returned to the market in May after successful restructuring.
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