In 2016, a Connecticut judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre against Remington, the manufacturer of the weapon used in the killings. But this week, the Connecticut Supreme Court revived part of the lawsuit, ruling that federal protections did not prevent the families from bringing a lawsuit based on wrongful marketing tactics, and claims based on a state law regarding unfair trade practices could move forward.
Here’s a look at the ruling, and what it could mean for future lawsuits against gun makers.
Laws, Lies, and Liability
The suit was initially dismissed pursuant to the Protection of Lawful Commerce of Arms Act (PLCAA), signed into law by George W. Bush in 2005. In the 4-3 ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court largely agreed with that decision, finding that most of the claims raised by the families were precluded under the PLCAA and a gun manufacturer or dealer cannot be held liable for how a gun is used if the gun was sold legally.
But the parents’ lawsuit also attacked Remington’s marketing campaign, including ads for the AR-15-style Bushmaster used in the 2012 attack that invoked combat violence and told would-be buyers, “Consider your man card reissued.” And the court said the suit could go forward under Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act.
That statute is aimed at harmful marketing and prohibits advertising the use of a weapon as a potential tool for “offensive military style combat” by civilians. Other Bushmaster ads featured soldiers on patrol in jungles along with the phrase: “When you need to perform under pressure, Bushmaster delivers.” Remington allegedly promoted the rifle to civilians as “the ultimate combat weapons system,” and the Connecticut Supreme Court decided that “it falls to a jury to decide whether the promotional schemes alleged in the present case rise to the level of illegal trade practices and whether fault for the tragedy can be laid at their feet.”
The End of the Road and the End of Immunity?
Appeals are assured and a jury may still find in Remington’s favor, so the suit is far from over. But attacking a gun maker’s ads through state consumer protection laws may provide gun violence victims a path to compensation that didn’t exist before.