Family members of Sandy Hook shooting victims say ads like this one motivated Adam Lanza to use a powerful weapon.
Family members of Sandy Hook shooting victims say ads like this one motivated Adam Lanza to use a powerful weapon.

Washington – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would not hear an appeal of a Connecticut court decision that allowed the families of Sandy Hook shooting victims to continue their lawsuit against the Remington Arms Co., maker of the weapon used in the infamous 2012 massacre.

The Supreme Court’s ruling will not only allow the lower court’s decision to stand, but will also potentially open the door to more lawsuits from victims of gun crimes.

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

The case, brought by family members of those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead, was based on a “loophole” in a 2005 federal law, known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA. It broadly, but not completely, shields firearm manufacturers and dealers when crimes are committed with their products.

That loophole focuses on “action in which a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product knowingly violated a State or Federal Statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product.”

In their lawsuit against Remington, the Sandy Hook families say the gun Adam Lanza used  – a semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle  – was marketed to promote its “assaultive qualities, military uses, and lethality.”

Remington had appealed a 4-3 ruling in March by the Connecticut Supreme Court to the U.S. Supreme Court. That ruling agreed with a lower court judge’s decision to dismiss most of the families’ claims, but it also found PLCAA did not prevent the families from bringing a lawsuit based on wrongful marketing claims under the state’s  Unfair Trade Practices Act.

The family members say Remington marketed the Bushmaster in a manner that inspired Adam Lanza’s actions and encouraged him to choose a weapon that would maximize the damage he could inflict.

“The gun industry and the gun lobby have worked for years to convince Americans that AR15s are ‘modern sport sporting rifles,’ when in reality they are nothing more than weapons of war used to hunt our children and loved ones in our schools, places of worship and other public places all across America,” said Po Murray, chairwoman of the Newtown Action Alliance.

Remington says there’s no proof of that and appealed the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing the Connecticut court used a too-broad interpretation of PLCAA’s exception and that the Second and Ninth Circuits have rejected similar lawsuit

With the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the Remington appeal, Koskoff said the families are ready to resume discovery and proceed toward 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.”

Remington did not have an immediate response Tuesday to the Supreme Court’s action.

The National Rifle Association, which pressed for Congress’ approval of PLCAA, and the Connecticut Citizens Defense League also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision.

The Connecticut-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, a group of Republican attorneys general, and 22 current and former GOP members of Congress had also backed the appeal.

Connecticut filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to reject the case. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong  said the Sandy Hook families “deserve their day in court, and the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act affords them that right.”

“The AR-15 is a weapon of war designed to inflict maximum lethality and should never have been marketed to civilians,” Tong said. “Connecticut’s consumer laws were designed to protect against these kinds of harmful commercial activities.”

Tong also said “the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act is not an impenetrable shield against all responsibility.”

The families still face a tough court battle to prove Remington’s marketing and advertising practices made the gun manufacturer liable for the Sandy Hook murders.

Still, congressional supporters of the Sandy Hook families who sued hailed the high court for rejecting Remington’s appeal.

“The Supreme Court’s action today brings Sandy Hook families one step closer to justice – and is another crack in the legal armor of the gun industry,” said Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District,  in a joint statement. “For years, gun manufacturers have been allowed to operate with near-blanket immunity – producing weapons of war and marketing them to the masses with zero accountability.”

The Connecticut lawmakers also said “this critical victory” reinforces the need for Congress to repeal PLCAA,  “unlocking the doors to justice for all victims of gun violence.”

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also weighed in about the lawsuit centered on Remington’s Bushmaster.

“We have seen countless lives lost and senseless devastation in our communities as a result of this weapon’s use,” Lamont said. ” Today may not bring full closure for those impacted, but it is a step toward progress in their fight for justice. ”

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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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9 Comments

  1. Almost any object can have ‘assaultive qualities.’
    Nearly every firearm has ‘lethality.’
    Finally, stop trying to make the AR out to be a ‘military weapon.’ I would DEMAND my family members leave the military if they were issued an AR. Actually, I wouldn’t have to, because nobody would be left in the military if they were. They’d either refuse to volunteer or would no longer be with us.
    This is a money grab, pure and simple, and an effort to put firearms companies out of business and eradicate the Second Amendment and, of course, the CT Constitutional firearms clause:.

    “Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself [or herself] and the state”

  2. Almost any object can have ‘assaultive qualities.’
    Nearly every firearm has ‘lethality.’
    Finally, stop trying to make the AR out to be a ‘military weapon.’ I would DEMAND my family members leave the military if they were issued an AR. Actually, I wouldn’t have to, because nobody would be left in the military if they were. They’d either refuse to volunteer or would no longer be with us.
    This is a money grab, pure and simple, and an effort to put firearms companies out of business and eradicate the Second Amendment and, of course, the CT Constitutional firearms clause:.

    “Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself [or herself] and the state”

  3. let’s look at the “The Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act”….

    “The law states that any person who suffers a measurable loss of money or property as a result of an unfair or deceptive act prohibited by CUTPA may bring an action to recover that loss.”…
    Sec. 42-110b. Unfair trade practices prohibited. Legislative intent. (a) No person shall engage in unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce.

    hmmmm…. tell me, what “unfair or deceptive act” did remington commit?

  4. Is the ad posted at the top of the article supposed to make people want to go out and kill? Is there something about the term “Man Card” that am not getting? Could there not be a photo of a big nasty looking 4 wd PU shown in that ad with the same text? Would THAT ad encourage people to go out and kill? This looks like a bogus suit, and shame on the CT court for deciding it the way they did!

  5. Check out the FBI Uniform Crime Report. it can be found online, table 20. The truth of the matter is that rifles of all types, including the AR style, are used in almost no murders in America. In Connecticut in 2018, there were just TWO murders committed with long arms. Knives and other cutting instruments? EIGHTEEN murders committed with those…

    Take away from this what you will, but the point is that these AR type rifles are in no way the problem they are purported to be. There is no epidemic of murders with these (most popular rifle in America) firearms.

    1. Further, the AR is an excellent self-defense firearm. It’s lightweight, accurate, dependable and effective, with relatively little ‘kick.’ I’d rather my wife or daughters-in-law have one of these available in case they ever need it because it would be much better for them to use (see attributes above).

      Further, police are ‘accurate’ approx 20-30% of the time when under duress, and they are well-trained. A homeowner, limited to 10 rounds, who would most likely be less accurate, and under more duress, would be hard-pressed to stop one invader, let alone more than one.

  6. The Supreme Court refused to take this case. Without explanation. That’s not an endorsement of the CT Supreme Court’s decision; it may be only docket control.
    Also worth observing: the provision in the existing law against suing gun companies used as the basis for this decision is that the companies violated existing law in some way. If the statute in question concerns incitement, then the issue may be only whether ads, popssibly including the one pictured, are an incitement.
    This appears to be a case about marketing.

    1. So, what is the story on automobile ads that show cars and drivers doing all sorts of irresponsible things? Such antics as speeding along snow covered rural roads in the latest SUV? Skidding into parking spots, Even dogs driving! Any “Incitement” to be found in auto ads?

      While I think I get the purpose of this law, it seems ill conceived, and poorly thought out, and entirely based on subjective opinion.

      Why this law could be the perfect vehicle for those who wish to destroy or create undue burdens on a legitimate industry.

      Go after them through their marketing – sheesh

      1. Correct. Plus, even if irresponsible marketing could make a company liable for damage done by its products, there is no allegation that the shooter, Adam Lanza (or his mother who purchased the weapon), was ever exposed to Remington’s marketing. Without that connection, this case should have been dismissed. It is a compete waste of time and money.

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