The Connecticut Supreme Court has reinstated a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the families of nine victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting against Remington Arms, the manufacturer of the rifle used in the shooting.
In the 4-3 ruling, the justices agreed with a lower court judge’s decision to dismiss most of the claims raised by the families, but also found that the sweeping federal protections did not prevent the families from bringing a lawsuit based on wrongful marketing claims. The court ruled that the case can move ahead based on a state law regarding unfair trade practices.
The ruling sends the case back to the 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,” Justice Richard Palmer wrote for the majority, adding he didn’t think Congress envisioned complete immunity for gunmakers.
Several lawsuits over mass shootings in other states have been rejected because of the federal law.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2014 by nine families of the victims and a teacher who was injured in the shooting. It names gun manufacturers and distributors Bushmaster, Remington, Camfour Holdings LLP, as well as Riverview Gun Sales Inc., the gun shop where the shooter’s mother purchased the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, and the store’s owner.
In the lawsuit, the families seized upon the marketing for the AR-15-style Bushmaster used in the 2012 attack, which invoked the violence of combat and used slogans like “Consider your man card reissued.”
Lawyers for the families argued that those messages reflected a deliberate effort to appeal to troubled young men like Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who charged into the elementary school and killed 26 people, including 20 first graders, in a spray of gunfire.
A Connecticut Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2016, agreeing with lawyers for Remington that the case falls within the “broad immunity” gun manufacturers and sellers are afforded under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a 2005 law that shields manufacturers and retailers from civil liability in lawsuits brought by victims of gun violence.
Remington Arms filed for bankruptcy in March of 2018, which effectively stalled the lawsuit. In May 2018, the company announced that it had emerged from bankruptcy.