A Connecticut Superior Court judge on Monday began weighing whether the company that makes the AR-15 rifle should face a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Attorneys for gun manufacturer Bushmaster asked Judge Barbara Bellis to dismiss a suit brought by families who lost loved ones when 20-year-old Adam Lanza went on a rampage inside the Newton, Connecticut, school in late 2012 and fatally shot 20 children and six adults with an AR-15, a commercially available, high-powered semi-automatic rifle that had been legally purchased by his mother.
The wrongful death suit, filed in 2014, charges that Bushmaster widely markets the gun despite knowing that its “military firepower, unsuited to home defense or recreation, enables an individual in possession of the weapon to inflict unparalleled civilian carnage.”
The AR-15 may be a “valuable law enforcement weapon,” albeit with “little utility for legitimate civilian purposes,” the attorneys acknowledged at the time of the filing.
Lawyers with Bushmaster’s parent company, Freedom Group, told Judge Bellis on Monday the suit should be dismissed because the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) shields gun makers from being held responsible for most criminal acts committed with their products.
Holding Bushmaster liable for the deaths “would basically eviscerate” the PLCAA, said Christopher Renzulli, an attorney for Camfour, a firearms distributor that is named as a defendant in the suit alongside Freedom Group and Riverview Gun Sales, the East Windsor store where the AR-15 was acquired.
“Congress has expressed its clear intention that these cases against firearms manufacturers shall not be brought, and the process by which the law was passed needs to be respected,” Freedom Group attorney James Vogts told the court at Monday’s hearing, the Associated Press reported.
Plaintiffs allege that the suit deserves to stand since the PLCAA contains a “negligent entrustment” exception that could be used to seek remedy if the court agrees that the AR-15 shouldn’t be sold to civilians.
“We did our homework on the weapon. It will be clear to anybody who hears the history of this weapon that it was designed specifically for the military and selling it to civilians is reckless,” Josh Koskoff, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Hartford Courant this week. “It was basically designed to kill lots of people and the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook is exactly what it was designed for to kill people during an assault.”
At a press conference outside of a Bridgeport, Connecticut, courthouse Monday, relatives of the victims claimed that Lanza picked the AR-15 for his rampage on purpose.
“There were a lot of guns that our shooter could have chosen from his arsenal and his mother’s arsenal,” said Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old child was killed in the massacre. “He chose the AR-15. He was aware of how many shots it could get out, how lethal it was, how it would serve his objective of killing as many people as possible in as short of time as possible.
“He didn’t choose another weapon. He didn’t choose another gun. He chose an AR-15, and the manufacturers need to be held responsible for that,” she said.
Judge Bellis is slated to decide during the next two months whether to dismiss the suit.