The Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for a lawsuit against Remington Arms Co. brought by victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting who want the gunmaker held responsible for the deadly attack.
The lawsuit will play out in a Connecticut court, effectively putting on trial the blanket immunity Congress grants to firearms manufacturers and deals against liability for how their weapons are used.
The issue is at the forefront of gun control activists’ efforts to crack down on the firearm industry. Several Democratic presidential candidates have taken up the cause.
Remington asked the Supreme Court to halt the lawsuit, citing the federal law that generally protects them.
“This lawsuit is particularly antithetical to Congress’s purpose because it employs a broad and vague state statute to penalize advertising when Congress explicitly sought to protect the rights of manufacturers and sellers’ ‘right[s] under the First Amendment,’” Remington argued in court papers.
The estates representing the Sandy Hook victims countered that the company used unlawful marketing practices for the weapon used by shooter Adam Lanza, who carried Remington’s Bushmaster XM-15 rifles, a version of the popular AR 15-style rifle, on the deadly rampage through the school in Newtown, Connecticut.
The shooter entered Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, and opened fire, killing 20 first-grade students and six adults.
Before entering the school, the shooter killed his mother in their nearby house. He killed himself when the police arrived at the school.
The rifle belonged to his mother, who lawfully purchased it in 2010.
The victims and survivors told the high court that the murderer chose the firearm “for its military and assaultive qualities, in particular, its efficiency in inflicting mass casualties,” arguing it was “marketed in association with the military.”
The law at issue, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, was passed in 2005 to protect firearm dealers from liability when their products are used to commit crimes. Manufacturers, under the statute, could be held accountable for defective products, among other misconduct.
The Connecticut Supreme Court had stayed proceedings pending the Supreme Court’s review, which had the potential to preempt the legal battle.
The high court, however, declined to weigh in on the dispute, issuing no comment and allowing the case to proceed.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, a top 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, applauded the Supreme Court’s move. He said the Sandy Hook victims deserve their day in court, and Americans should have laws that protect them — not corporations.
“There’s a straight line from those brave Newtown parents, to the activism of the Parkland students, to the millions of others who’ve said ‘enough’ in the long years between and since those tragedies. They’re using every tool of democracy: in the streets, at the polls, and today, in the courts,” said Mr. Biden, who was vice president at the time of the massacre.
Mr. Biden said if he’s elected president, he would repeal liability laws that gunmakers use to shield themselves from responsibility in mass killings.
“I will take other critical steps that we know cut down on gun violence: banning and buying back assault weapons, expanding background checks, and closing key sales loopholes, just to start,” he said.
Following the Sandy Hook shooting, the Obama White House attempted but failed to pass tougher gun laws, including expanded background checks.
Joshua Koskoff, who is representing the Sandy Hook families, told The Associated Press they are happy the Supreme Court declined to allow Remington to avoid accountability.
“We are ready to resume discovery and proceed towards trial in order to shed light on Remington’s profit-driven strategy to expand the AR-15 market and court high-risk users at the expense of Americans’ safety,” Mr. Koskoff said.
The lawyer representing Remington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.