By DAVE COLLINS, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Gun maker Remington can be sued over how it marketed the rifle used to kill 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, a divided Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Gun control advocates touted the ruling as providing a possible roadmap for victims of other mass shootings to circumvent a long-criticized federal law that shields gun manufacturers from liability in most cases when their products are used in crimes. Gun rights supporters bashed the decision as judicial activism and overreach.

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.

Several lawsuits over mass shootings in other states have been rejected because of the federal law.

The plaintiffs in Connecticut include a survivor and relatives of nine people killed in the massacre. They argue the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle used by Newtown shooter Adam Lanza is too dangerous for the public and Remington glorified the weapon in marketing it to young people, including those with mental illness.

A Bushmaster rifle in Room 10 at Sandy Hook Elementary School following the December 14, 2012 shooting rampage (Photo by Connecticut State Police via Getty Images)

Remington, based in Madison, North Carolina, has denied wrongdoing and previously insisted it can’t be sued because of the 2005 law, called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. A Remington spokesman said Thursday the company had no comment on the court ruling.

“We have no timeline for any comments to be made on the subject,” spokesman Eric Suarez wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

James Vogts, a lawyer for Remington, has cited the 2005 federal law and previously said the Bushmaster rifle is a legal firearm used by millions of people for hunting, self-defense and target shooting.

Lanza, 20, shot his way into the locked school in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012, and killed 20 first-graders and six educators with a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, similar to an AR-15. He shot his mother to death in their Newtown home beforehand, and killed himself as police arrived at the school.

Connecticut’s child advocate said Lanza’s severe and deteriorating mental health problems, his preoccupation with violence and access to his mother’s legal weapons “proved a recipe for mass murder.”

Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son Dylan died in the shooting, said Thursday that a main goal of the lawsuit is to stop Remington and other gun makers from gearing their advertising toward troubled young men.

“We have always said our case is about reckless sales and marketing to disturbed youth,” Hockley said. “We wanted our day in court. This is a step forward to ensure that manufacturers like Remington are not allowed to keep targeting people who are at risk.”

A gun industry group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which happens to be based in Newtown, said the state Supreme Court ruling was an “overly broad interpretation” of an exception to the 2005 federal law.

“The majority’s decision today is at odds with all other state and federal appellate courts that have interpreted the scope of the exception,” the group said in a statement, adding it “respectfully disagrees with and is disappointed by the court’s majority decision.”

A spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association declined to comment.

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.”

The lawsuit seeks undisclosed damages.

Military-style rifles have been used in many other mass shootings, including in Las Vegas in October 2017 when 58 people were killed and hundreds more injured.

The case was watched by gun-rights supporters and gun control advocates across the country as one that could affect other cases accusing gun makers of being responsible for mass shootings. Several groups, ranging from the NRA to emergency room doctors, submitted briefs to the court.

The 2005 federal law has been cited by other courts that rejected lawsuits against gun makers and dealers in other high-profile shooting attacks, including the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting and the Washington, D.C., sniper shootings in 2002.

Robert J. Spitzer, chairman of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland and an expert on guns and the Second Amendment, said the Connecticut ruling runs counter to the 2005 federal law. Even though the court allowed the case to proceed, he said, there still be a very high bar for successfully suing Remington.

“The likelihood they’ll succeed is small,” he said.

Still, allowing the lawsuit to move forward means that there will be an opportunity for discovery that would unearth company documents that could be embarrassing for Remington. Since gun makers have in recent history been shielded from litigation, company officials may have felt emboldened to openly discuss tactics, marketing strategies and other revealing details about business dealings.

Remington filed for bankruptcy reorganization last year amid years of slumping sales and legal and financial pressure over the Sandy Hook school massacre.

Associated Press writer Lisa Marie Pane in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.

(© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  1. Steve Jobs once said, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do,” so here I go.

    As a mental health clinician in a prison, I am no stranger to stories. One day I asked an offender, one year younger than myself, “Do you mind me asking what happened?” As he told me his story of how he earned a life ticket to prison, I listened with pain in my heart. He spoke of a lost path consumed by drugs and confusion. As he spoke, I couldn’t help but reflect on the world as I know it. A world lacking compassion, consumed by fear. A society that presents itself from a place of projection, and is driven by insecurities. A society afraid to be seen, hiding under a mask. A world ignorant to the realities of life. The longer I reflected, the stronger my desire to share became.

    You see friends, we all struggle. Our paths all look different, but at the end of the day, we all have bumps in the road. It’s easy to fear what we don’t know. It’s a piece of pie to project your insecurities and fear towards your neighbors. It’s easier to speak hate than reflect inward and sit with the uncomfortable feelings that come with being human.

    As I listened to the offender’s story, I couldn’t help but reflect on the war against guns. His story involved a gun, but it also included a lost path consumed by substances. My heart ached because I believe with every ounce of my soul that guns are not the issue, society is. We live in a society lacking compassion, drowning in fear. I want to break this down for you real quick. A gun carries a bullet. It takes a human finger to pull the trigger. If the trigger is pulled by the said human, a bullet will exit the barrel. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. What would it look like if we took the blame off the guns and identified the person as the problem?

    Let’s say a person struggling with substance abuse shoots someone. We could identify the substances as the problem. What if we explored what drove a person to use substances in the first place. Were drugs the only thing strong enough to numb the pains of abuse and trauma? Were they using substances to cope with symptoms of mental illness? If so, we’ve now established trauma and/or mental illness as a factor. What would it look like if we were proactive at getting this person help before a gun was even brought into the equation?

    In 2017, 39,773 Americans died by a gun. Within that number, 23,854 people died from suicide by guns. In this same year, 47,173 Americans died by suicide with an estimated 1,400,000 attempts. That is an average of 129 suicides per day. You all, if the suicide statistics don’t tell you something than I don’t know what will. More than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids. Over 44 million American adults have a mental health condition with 1 in 5, or 9 million adults lacking mental health resources.

    You see, guns are not the problem. Instead of being a reactive nation, let’s be proactive. Let’s make mental health a kitchen table issue and break the stigma. Let’s provide more treatment for individuals struggling with substance abuse. When you work in a prison and hear stories all day, it changes you. Your fears subside, and compassion creeps in. It took me coming to prison to gain this awareness. Mental health and trauma are real, and we are surrounded by it. I’ve never met one person who landed themselves in prison, whose story didn’t stem from trauma, neglect, or abuse.

    For change to occur, we need to find compassion. Compassion for ourselves would be a great place to start. Educating ourselves is a close second, and I’m not talking about years of schooling. I am talking about life education. The lessons you learn through connection and engagement. The insights and knowledge you gain from talking to a total stranger. We also need courage! Courage to show up every day as our authentic self. Fear is the driver of our lives, and it’s time we take hold of the steering wheel. Our world is consumed by hate, and I believe this hate is fed by fear. That’s not to say your fear isn’t valid, but what would it look like if we stepped out from behind the curtain of fear and felt the warm sun, shine on our face.

    I have no statistics to back this, but logic can easily identify that there is a positive correlation between the increase in gun violence and fear within society. What would it look like if we filled schools with counselors instead of armed security officers? Helping professionals who can teach kiddos how to effectively regulate emotions and cope with trauma and bullying. What if importance was placed on mental health? More resources provided for counseling, medication management, and treatment? What would it look like if resources were made available and individuals were taught how to effectively cope with their symptoms in a healthy way? Just like an onion has layers, so does societies problems. Instead of placing blame, lets peel back the layers and identify the core problem.

    Friends, we need to educate ourselves about the realities of the world and realize no one is immune to mental illness or trauma. Just like making drugs illegal didn’t fix the drug problem, banning guns will not fix the problem either. Where can we start? Educate your kiddos on the power of compassion and empathy. Show them how to live their life from a place of courage rather than fear. Be present with your babies and mindful of their struggles. In this fast-paced, technology-filled world, attachment issues are real. Validate the youth for their strengths instead of placing all the focus on their weaknesses. Smile at your neighbor and make eye contact with your sales clerk. Develop healthy coping skills, engage in self-care, seek help when help is needed, and remember you are not alone. Let’s come together as a society, state, world, and rejoin hands. Let’s close the doors to hate and open our hearts to compassion. Let’s stop judging, projecting, and pointing fingers.

    What would it look like to live your life from a place of courage as opposed to fear? You are capable of so much light and love. All it takes is one person to create a ripple effect, and I will be that person. I’ll stand up and say what we are doing isn’t working. Friends, let’s come together and make a change!

    A girl who believes in a better future

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