Family members of the children and adults killed in the Sandy Hook school massacre asked Connecticut's highest court to revive their lawsuit against Remington Arms Co., the maker of the AR-15 assault weapon used in the attack.
The families' argument is based on the legal doctrine of negligent entrustment, in which a product is carelessly sold or given to a person at high risk of using it in a harmful way.
Remington's lawyer, James Vogts, told the CT court that the families' claims, first filed in 2014, are barred by the 2005 law.
When Adam Lanza prepared for his massacre on the morning of December 14, 2012, he put on tactical gear, taped 30-round magazines together and reached for a weapon that Remington should never had made available to him, plaintiffs attorney Josh Koskoff told the panel of judges Tuesday in Hartford. They argue that ads targeted a "younger demographic". He got it for his 18th birthday. "They marketed the weapon for exactly what it was", Koskoff said. Negligent entrustment is specifically excepted from the 2005 gun maker shield laws. "You can't launder negligence through other parties", said Koskoff.
Josh Koskoff, who is representing the Sandy Hook families, argued that Remington Arms had been courting gunman Adam Lanza for years prior to the shooting through specific advertising, particularly in video games such as Call of Duty. That's if a gun manufacturer foresaw that an injury could happen with its product, then the manufacturer could be liable.
At one point Palmer pressed Vogts about whether there are any legitimate uses for the AR-15 other that killing someone, noting that the plaintiffs say it is a "killing machine".
"The weapon he needed for his mission was never in doubt", he said of the AR-15. "I would want to choose a firearm that would force any opposition to bow down (if protecting the home)".
Josh Koskoff, lawyer for the victims' families, compared it to "the Ford Motor Company advertising a vehicle that can run over people" and said that kind of advertising attracts "dangerous users", including Lanza. "What we have is the conduct of a corporation that thought it was above the law and still thinks its above the law". Lanza also killed his mother before the school shooting. In court, he argued that people most commonly use this type of rifle for deer hunting. Since the lawsuit was filed by the Sandy Hook victims there have been other mass shootings, including Sutherland Springs, Texas.
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On the same day as the hearing, at least three people, including the shooter, were killed and two children wounded in a shooting at an elementary school in Northern California.
The case has drawn national attention.
Lawyers for the family members asked the court to revive the suit that was dismissed previous year by Judge Barbara Bellis in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Lanza (20) used a Remington AR-15 Bushmaster rifle, a semi-automatic civilian version of the United States military's M-16, to kill 20 schoolchildren between the ages of 6 and 7, as well as six adult staff members, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. But, Hockley said, while the military takes great care of controlling its weapons, the manufacturers actively market them to unstable people.
A superior court judge dismissed the suit last October and cited the federal law that protects gun manufacturers from litigation if their products are used during a crime.
"Although PLCAA provides a narrow exception under which plaintiffs may maintain an action for negligent entrustment of a firearm, the allegations in the present case do not fit within the common-law tort of negligent entrustment under well-established CT law, nor do they come within PLCAA's definition of negligent entrustment", Bellis wrote. They also say Remington violated a CT law against unfair sales and marketing practices. "The manufacturer is saying they didn't hand the gun to any individuals but released it to a distributor who eventually sold it to an individual". Defense attorney James Vogts stated that the lawsuit would require a reinterpretation of the law itself.
The nation is watching the case closely because if the families succeed, and the state Supreme Court allows it to move forward, it could lead to a flood of lawsuits against gunmakers.