Gun-makers are facing a potentially major legal reversal of their protection from liability for gun violence. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Remington Outdoor Co. can be sued for how it marketed their Bushmaster rifle, the model used in the Sandy Hook mass shooting.
Families of the Sandy Hook victims filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the gun manufacturer in 2012. In this week’s 4-3 ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned a lower-court ruling that the lawsuit was prohibited by a 2005 federal law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The PLCAA protects gun companies from being held liable for crimes committed with their products.
The court upheld the dismissal of several of the plaintiffs’ claims as barred under the PLCAA, but found that the PLCAA did not protect gun manufacturers from a state law that bans marketing a military-style weapon to civilians. The plaintiffs alleged that Bushmaster glorified violence and extolled militaristic characteristics to attract civilian buyers.
Unless the ruling is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the case will now go back to a trial court, where a jury will decided if Remington violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Here are some of the marketing and advertising phrases the plaintiffs have objected to:
“The Bushmaster Defendants’ militaristic marketing reinforces the image of the AR-15 as a combat weapon used for the purpose of waging war and killing human beings.”
“The Bushmaster Defendants have promoted their ‘civilian’ rifles as ‘the ultimate combat weapons system.'”
“Superimposed over the silhouette of a soldier holding his helmet against the backdrop of an American flag is text that reads: ‘When you need to perform under pressure, Bushmaster delivers.'”
The plaintiffs are asserting that the gun used in the Newtown shooting is more dangerous than other guns simply because it shares characteristics with military rifles like a “matte black, non-reflective finish.”
Another larger legal ramification this case will have on the gun industry is setting a precedent for giving access to gun companies’ internal documents and marketing strategies. The Sandy Hook families will now be able to subpoena information on how the Bushmaster AR-15 was marketed.
“There is a reason why this particular consumer product is the one that is used by people who want to inflict the most damage, and we have seen it time and time again since my son and his classmates were killed,” David Wheeler, father of a Sandy Hook victim, told the Hartford Courant. “That reason very likely potentially resides in the documents that we have been unable to look at until now.”
No final victories have been declared yet, and the gun manufacturers’ lawyers maintain that their clients are protected by federal and state laws. James Vogts, a lawyer for Remington, told the Wall Street Journal that a firearm maker or seller must be “given a reason to know that the buyer is likely to use the product to cause harm,” in order to be liable under Connecticut law.