The Supreme Court in Connecticut has ruled that gun-maker Remington can be sued as a result of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The Court ruled on March 14 that the company can be sued over how it marketed the gun that was used to kill 20 children and six educators at the school.
Gun control advocates believe the ruling can provide a doorway for allowing victims of other mass shootings to avoid the federal law that protects gun manufacturers from liability. Gun rights supporters call the ruling a case of legislative overreach and judicial activism.
The Court overruled a lower court judge who believed that the entire lawsuit was nullified by federal law in a four to three decision. The justices in the majority said that while most of the lawsuit was prohibited by the law, the plaintiffs could still sue Remington for alleged wrongful marketing.
“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,” wrote Justice Richard Palmer in the majority opinion. He went on to say that he didn’t believe Congress imagined complete immunity for gun-makers in the law.
The plaintiffs in the case include relatives of nine victims of the shooting, along with a survivor. They argue that the Bushmaster AR-15 style rifle used by the Newtown shooter is too dangerous for the public. They maintain that Remington glorified the weapon in its marketing to young people, which is especially dangerous for those with severe mental illness.
Madison, North Carolina based Remington has denied culpability and has not commented on the court’s ruling.
“We have no timeline for any comment to be made on the subject,” said Eric Shultz, a spokesman for Remington.
Nicole Hockley, mother to six-year-old Dylan who died in the massacre, said that the aim of the lawsuit is to stop Remington and other gun manufacturers from advertising specifically to troubled young men.
“We have always said our case is about reckless sales and marketing to disturbed youth,” said Hockley said. “We wanted our day in court. This is a step forward to ensure that manufacturers like Remington are not allowed to keep targeting people who are at risk.”
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry group coincidentally based in Newton, believes that the interpretation of the law is overly broad.
“The majority’s decision today is at odds with all other state and federal appellate courts that have interpreted the scope of the exception,” said the group in a statement, adding it, “respectfully disagrees with and is disappointed by the court’s majority decision.”
Connecticut Chief Justice Richard Robinson dissented in the case, focusing on the original intent of the statute.
“Because the distastefulness of a federal law does not diminish its preemptive effect, I would affirm the judgment of the trial court striking the plaintiff’s complaint in its entirety,” wrote Robinson in his opinion.
Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal called the ruling a victory for victims of gun violence.
“It’s a ‘wow’ moment in American legal history,” said Blumenthal. “It will change the legal landscape for this industry, potentially all across the country.”