Sandy Hook lawsuit court victory opens crack in gun maker immunity shield

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled on March 14 that families of the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting victims could proceed with a lawsuit against the companies that manufactured and sold the semiautomatic rifle used in the attack.

The ruling, which reversed a lower court’s decision, has the potential to unleash a flood of claims by gun violence victims against gun manufacturers – if it’s upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, that is.

My research on the history of lawsuits against the gun industry has documented the failure of gun violence victims to hold gun manufacturers liable for legal marketing practices that many people consider irresponsible. The latest Sandy Hook decision could pave the way for gunmakers to finally be held responsible for them.

Interpreting ‘applicable’

A 2006 law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act grants gun manufacturers immunity from lawsuits that arise out of the criminal misuse of a weapon.

The Sandy Hook families argued that their lawsuit fell under an exception to this federal immunity. The exception allows gun violence victims to sue a manufacturer who “knowingly violated a state or federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing” of a firearm.

The families claimed that Remington Arms “marketed, advertised and promoted the Bushmaster XM15-E2S for civilians to use to carry out offensive, military style combat missions against their perceived enemies.” They said that this marketing constituted an unfair trade practice under Connecticut law, which they argued is a state statute “applicable” to the marketing of a firearm.