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Families of Sandy Hook victims may sue gunmaker over marketing practices, top state court says

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The maker of the Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle can be sued over alleged marketing practices that violate the state’s unfair trade practices law, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled in a suit by families of Sandy Hook victims.

The court said a 2005 federal law insulates gun manufacturers and sellers from liability for the acts of people who use their weapons to kill others. But an allegation that manufacturer Remington and related companies violated state law by marketing the guns for criminal purposes can go forward, the court said.

The court ruled Thursday in a 4-3 decision, report the Washington Post, the Hartford Courant, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. The majority opinion is here and the dissent is here.

The suit was filed in December 2014 by the families of nine children shot to death in December 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Another plaintiff, a surviving staff member, has since abandoned her claim. Twenty children and six adults were killed at the school by the shooter, Adam Lanza, who also killed his mother and himself.

A trial judge had cited the federal law when she dismissed the suit in 2016.

But the Connecticut Supreme Court said the federal law includes an exception for illegal marketing practices. Plaintiffs can proceed with their theory that Remington knowingly marketed and promoted the gun “for civilians to use to carry out offensive, military style combat missions against their perceived enemies,” the court said.

The Wall Street Journal spoke with Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University who has written a book on gun litigation. “This ruling has basically blown a very large hole in federal immunity for firearms manufacturers in lawsuits against them that arise out of the criminal misuse of the weapons they sell,” he said.

Nora Freeman Engstrom, a law professor at Stanford University, wrote an amicus brief signed by law professors in the case. She told the New York Times that there is more work ahead for the plaintiffs. “Any path for plaintiffs will be long and strewn with obstacles. But this opinion suggests there may well be a road, which before was unclear,” she said.

The suit is Soto v. Bushmaster Firearms International.

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