Finally, there might be justice, hollow as it may feel, for the Sandy Hook victims' families. Finally, their lawsuit can move forward. Finally, gun manufacturers may be held responsible for the ways they advertise their products to the public — including one who used one of their weapons to brutally and senselessly mow down 20 first-grade children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
There is a federal law that shields gun manufacturers from liability in most cases where their guns are used to commit crimes, and that's been what has protected them from consequences for so many years. But no longer. In a 4-3 ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court overruled the lower court's decision that Remington was protected by that federal law and couldn't be sued.
In a 4-3 decision, justices reinstated a wrongful death lawsuit against Remington and overturned the ruling of a lower court judge, who said the entire lawsuit was prohibited by the 2005 federal law. The majority said that while most of the lawsuit’s claims were barred by the federal law, Remington could still be sued for alleged wrongful marketing under Connecticut law.
“The regulation of advertising that threatens the public’s health, safety, and morals has long been considered a core exercise of the states’ police powers,” Justice Richard Palmer wrote for the majority, adding he didn’t believe Congress envisioned complete immunity for gun-makers.
The plaintiffs insist they want Remington to stop advertising practices that market weapons aggressively to, in particular, young men who might be troubled and angry already. They say the case is about "reckless marketing" to "disturbed youth" posing grave danger to public safety.
Joshua Koskoff, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, has said the Bushmaster rifle and other AR-15-style rifles were designed as military killing machines and should never have been sold to the public. He accuses Remington of targeting younger, at-risk males through “militaristic marketing and astute product placement in violent first-person shooter games.”
“The families’ goal has always been to shed light on Remington’s calculated and profit-driven strategy to expand the AR-15 market and court high-risk users, all at the expense of Americans’ safety,” Koskoff said Thursday. “Today’s decision is a critical step toward achieving that goal.”
Even gun control advocates understand the chances of winning the case is small, but like other industries, the process of going forward with the lawsuit can in and of itself be illuminating for the public and embarrassing to the gun manufacturers. The process of discovery can shed a great deal of light on internal practices for marketing. Consider the tobacco industry, and how things have changed since they were shown to have marketed aggressively to children, knowing their product was addictive. Great change came from that.
Even if they don't win the lawsuit on behalf of their precious kids and loved ones, at least there's new potential now for industry practice to be transformed.