Is gun maker liable? Court takes up Newtown shooting case
Nicole Hockley, who lost her son, Dylan in the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting, waits in the gallery at the state Supreme Court to hear arguments in a lawsuit filed against Remington Arms, in Hartford, Conn., Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (Cloe Poisson/The Courant via AP, Pool)
Dave Collins, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, November 14, 2017 1:58PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 14, 2017 5:24PM EST
HARTFORD, Conn. -- Newtown school shooter Adam Lanza heard the message loud and clear when gun-maker Remington Arms marketed an AR-15-style rifle as an overpowering weapon favoured by elite military forces, a lawyer for relatives of some victims of the massacre told the Connecticut Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Lanza, who killed 20 first-graders and six educators with a Bushmaster XM15-E2S on Dec. 14, 2012, was obsessed with violent video games and idolized the Army Rangers, attorney Joshua Koskoff said.
Koskoff asked the high court to reinstate a wrongful death lawsuit against Madison, North Carolina-based Remington. He said the Bushmaster rifle and other AR-15-style firearms were designed as military killing machines and are too dangerous for the public, but Remington glorified them and marketed them to a younger demographic that included the 20-year-old Lanza.
"Adam Lanza heard the message," Koskoff told the justices, whose decision isn't expected for several months. "They marketed the weapon for exactly what it was. They used images of soldiers in combat. They used slogans invoking battle and high-pressure missions.
"Remington may never have known Adam Lanza, but they had been courting him for years," he said.
Military-style rifles have been used in many other mass shootings, including in Las Vegas last month and a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, earlier this month. They also were used in the Columbine High School and Aurora movie theatre shootings in Colorado.
The Connecticut case is being watched by gun rights supporters and gun control advocates across the country as one that could affect other cases accusing gun-makers of being responsible for mass shootings. Several groups, including the National Rifle Association and emergency room doctors, submitted briefs to the court.
At issue is a 2005 federal law that exempts gun-makers from liability when their products are used in crimes and two exceptions to the law. A lower Connecticut court dismissed the lawsuit in 2015, citing the federal law named the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. That led to the Supreme Court appeal.
One exception allows lawsuits alleging "negligent entrustment": when companies provide people with products the companies know, or should know, could be dangerous. The other allows lawsuits alleging manufacturers knowingly violated a state or federal law that applies to the sale or marketing of firearms.
Other courts have cited the law in rejecting lawsuits against gun-makers and dealers in some high-profile shooting attacks, including the Colorado movie theatre shooting and the Washington, D.C., sniper shootings.
The plaintiffs in the Newtown case -- a survivor and relatives of nine people killed -- sued Remington in 2015, citing the negligent entrustment exception and claiming the company violated a Connecticut law against unfair sales and marketing practices.
Lanza's mother, Nancy Lanza, legally bought the rifle and often went to the shooting range with her son, who had troubling mental health issues, authorities have said. Adam Lanza fatally shot his mother at their Newtown home before going to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed himself as police arrived.
James Vogts, a lawyer for Remington, told the court the Bushmaster rifle is a legal firearm used by millions of people for hunting, self-defence and target shooting. He said the lawsuit isn't allowed under the federal law.
"What happened that morning was horrific. It's a tragedy that won't be forgotten," Vogts said. He added, "The law needs to be applied dispassionately."
Besides Remington, other defendants in the lawsuit include firearms distributor Camfour and Riverview Gun Sales, the now-closed East Windsor, Connecticut, store where Nancy Lanza bought the Bushmaster rifle. They have the same defence arguments as Remington.
Several parents of children who died in the Newtown shooting attended Tuesday's court hearing.
Ian Hockley and his ex-wife Nicole Hockley, whose son, Dylan, was killed, said they have faith that the courts will find the gun-maker responsible.
Ian Hockley said the military takes precautions, such as training and mental health testing, when it gives rifles to soldiers. He said gun-makers do not make similar safety efforts when selling rifles to civilians.
"They could not care less what happens once the cash is in the bank, showing their utter disregard for the lives this weapon takes and the families it destroys," Ian Hockley said.