HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT - Gun-maker Remington can be sued over how it marketed the rifle used to kill 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, a divided Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Gun control advocates touted the ruling as providing a possible road map for victims of other mass shootings to circumvent a long-criticized federal law that shields gun manufacturers from liability in most cases when their products are used in crimes.
Gun rights supporters bashed the decision as judicial activism and overreach.
In a 4-3 decision, justices reinstated a wrongful death lawsuit against Remington and overturned the ruling of a lower court judge, who said the entire lawsuit was prohibited by the 2005 federal law. The majority said that while most of the lawsuit’s claims were barred by the federal law, Remington could still be sued for alleged wrongful marketing under Connecticut law.
“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 believe Congress envisioned complete immunity for gun-makers.
Several lawsuits over mass shootings in other states have been rejected because of the federal law.
The plaintiffs in Connecticut include a survivor and relatives of nine people killed in the massacre. They argue that the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle used by Newtown shooter Adam Lanza is too dangerous for the public and that Remington glorified the weapon in marketing it to young people, including those with mental illness.
Remington 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.
Lanza, 20, shot his way into the locked school in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012, and killed 20 first-graders and six educators with a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, which is similar to an AR-15. He alxso shot his mother to death in their Newtown home beforehand, and killed himself as police arrived at the school.
Connecticut’s child advocate said Lanza’s severe and deteriorating mental health problems, his preoccupation with violence and access to his mother’s legal weapons “proved a recipe for mass murder.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, called the ruling a victory for gun violence victims that gives moment to an effort by him and other federal legislators to repeal the 2005 law.
“It’s a wow moment in American legal history,” he said. “It will change the legal landscape for this industry, potentially all across the country.”
Blumenthal said the ruling reminded him of early court victories against tobacco companies that led them to disclose damaging internal documents and later agree to billions of dollars in legal settlements over sickened smokers.