Supreme Court won’t let Remington Arms dodge Sandy Hook bullet

The AR-15 evokes mixed emotions.
The AR-15 evokes mixed emotions.
Image: Reuters
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The US Supreme Court today denied a petition for review filed in August by the gun company Remington Arms, which had been hoping the justices would help it dodge a bullet in the form of a lawsuit.

The court’s decision came with no explanation. But it leaves the weapons maker subject to a lawsuit arising from the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, during which 20 children and 6 adults were killed. The shooter used a Remington’s AR-15 assault rifle.

Although gun makers are generally immune from liability for crimes committed with their products under federal law, there are some exceptions. The 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) was passed to protect arms manufacturers from lawsuits that would lead to “the diminution of a basic constitutional right [to bear arms] and civil liberty,” as Remington Arms pointed out in its petition. But the PLCAA’s “predicate exception” allows suits if the company “knowingly violated a state or federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing” of its products and the violation proximately caused the plaintiff’s harm.

A Connecticut court recognized this exception when it approved a lawsuit by the families of Sandy Hook victims against Remington Arms.

The Sandy Hook families sued the company, arguing that it “negligently entrusted to civilian consumers an AR-15 assault rifle that is suitable for use only by military and law enforcement personnel, and violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA), through the sale or wrongful marketing of the rifle.” They contend that any use of the assault rifle in a civilian context amounts to negligence. Yet the company markets the gun to civilians and uses military imagery to do so. Therefore, they say, the company’s sales and marketing materials are deceptive.

The Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza, was obsessed with the military. And the families argue that he chose the assault rifle for the school shooting because Remington Arms’ marketing deliberately and negligently created associations between the gun and the military that appealed to the 22-year-old.

Remington Arms had hoped the Supreme Court would review the decision, arguing that the exception only applies when the predicate statute explicitly mentions guns and gunmakers. Otherwise the exception would swallow the rule, it told the justices.

Now that the Supreme Court has declined to review the matter, however, the company will have to face the families’ claim in a Connecticut court.