Supreme Court Says Sandy Hook Families Can Sue the Remington Gun Maker

In a major blow to the firearms industry, the U.S. Supreme Court will not block the families of victims of the Sandy Hook shooting from suing the gun maker Remington.

Source: TIME | Published on November 12, 2019

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The nation’s highest court on Tuesday denied an appeal by the Remington Arms Company to review a lower court’s ruling that allowed the families to take on the gun maker in court over how it marketed the rifle used in the 2012 school massacre.

“The families are grateful that the Supreme Court upheld precedent and denied Remington’s latest attempt to avoid accountability,” said Josh Koskoff, the attorney representing the families. “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.” One of the weapons used at Sandy Hook was an AR-15 style Bushmaster.

The Court’s decision not to take on the Remington case is significant and suggests the court is not yet willing to weigh in on challenges to a federal law that has protected gun companies from lawsuits since it was enacted in 2005. The law, formally known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, largely shields firearm and ammunition manufacturers and sellers from liability when their products are used in crimes. There are a few exceptions, such as if a defective weapon causes death or injury or if a seller or manufacturer is found to have violated a law in the marketing or sale of the product. But the law has widely deterred families from targeting gun makers in court.

In 2014, two years after a gunman killed 20 children and six faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., nine family members of victims and one survivor took on the challenge and filed a wrongful death suit against Remington. over its marketing practices. Remington argued it was protected under the law, but the families’ suit said the federal law did not apply because they were accusing Remington of violating state laws in the marketing of the weapon. In March, the Connecticut Supreme Court agreed. Remington appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case without offering any explanation. The case now heads back to the Connecticut Superior Court.

Experts say Remington could be forced to provide documents that could yield damaging internal memos—similar to the way a major civil settlement in 1998 forced the tobacco industry to disclose millions of pages of internal communications that revealed deceptive marketing practices.

The NRA and Remington did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Gun rights groups have slammed the lawsuit as a misuse of the legal system. Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun trade group, previously told TIME that Remington would be responsible if its products were “negligently and defectively designed,” but not if the product used in a crime was legally sold and not defective.

“It’s the same as saying you can’t sue Ford for someone who misuses a car, drunk driving, and kills somebody,” Keane said. “The person who engages in that criminal conduct is responsible, both criminally and civilly.”