Connecticut's supreme court ruled Thursday that USA gunmaker Remington can be sued over the 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school in which one of its weapons was used. "Today's decision is a critical step toward achieving that goal", said Josh Koskoff, one of the attorneys for the families, in a statement. A massive victory for gun safety advocates.
The suit claims the company marketed and promoted the gun for civilians to use to carry out "offensive, military combat missions against their perceived enemies", and CT law bars ads that promote or encourage violent behaviour, the court said in its 71-page ruling.
Remington, based in Madison, North Carolina, has denied wrongdoing and previously insisted it can't be sued because of the 2005 law, called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
Justices in the state's highest court issued a narrow 4-3 decision that reinstated a wrongful death lawsuit overturned by a lower court ruling that the legal action was prohibited by a 2005 federal ruling, the Associated Press reported.
But it said they could sue under the theory that Remington, which owns the company that makes the Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle used by Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) by marketing the gun, a variation on the Colt AR-15, in a way that emphasized its "militaristic and assaultive qualities".
"The regulation of advertising that threatens the public's health, safety and morals has always been considered a core exercise of the states' police powers", Powers said.
Nine of the families originally filed the lawsuit in 2014, and have faced delays as the case was sent from federal to state-level courts and as Remington filed for bankruptcy previous year.
The court, echoing claims by the families, emphasized the lethality of the AR-15 style rifle, saying that it is created to "deliver maximum carnage with extreme efficiency".
The Connecticut high court disagreed. "The manufacturer and the sellers of the firearm used that day are not legally responsible for his crimes and harms that he caused".
The decision represents a major victory for the families of the 20 first-grade children and six educators who were killed in one of the deadliest mass shootings in US history, which inflamed outrage among gun control advocates who demanded lawmakers work to prevent mass shooting.
The heart of the plaintiffs' complaint was that Remington and others involved in the sale of the AR-15 to Lanza's mother were negligently entrusting to consumers a weapon to suitable only for military and law enforcement. Several groups, ranging from the National Rifle Association to emergency room doctors, submitted briefs to the court.
The 2005 federal law has been cited by other courts that rejected lawsuits against gun makers and dealers in other high-profile shooting attacks, including the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting and the Washington, D.C., sniper shootings in 2002. The lawsuit will now allow the plaintiffs to gain access to internal Remington documents that can shed light on its advertising practices.
"What I'm looking to find out in this whole process, essentially, is what went on inside Remington", said Bill Sherlach, whose wife Mary was the school psychologist shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary.