When Connecticut’s Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling last March that Remington Arms was protected from a lawsuit by families of victims of the Sandy Hook shooting, Remington appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Without comment, the Supreme Court on Tuesday turned back the appeal that allows the lawsuit against Remington to proceed.
The essence of the case against Remington is this: The company is accused of violating Connecticut’s fair trade laws by deceptively marketing its Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle. The company’s ads touted the rifle’s looks and expressed its benefits in ways that the families considered deceptive. That’s important because one of the exceptions to the federal law protecting arms manufacturers from such lawsuits — the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA — is that victims are allowed to sue if a manufacturer “knowingly violated a state or federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing” of a firearm.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs claimed that Remington’s Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle — the one Adam Lanza stole from his mother Nancy (before murdering her) and used to murder 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 — was “designed as a military weapon” and “engineered to deliver maximum carnage” with great efficiency.
They argued that Remington touted the rifle’s military appearance as a marketing strategy, including an ad showing a large picture of the rifle along with the text: “Forces of opposition, Bow down. The only rifle you need to master the infinite number of extreme scenarios you’ll face in the worlds of law enforcement and personal defense.” The ad called the rifle the “ultimate military combat weapons system,” adding that “It’s tested and proven reliable in the most brutal conditions on earth, truly ambidextrous and the uncompromising choice when you demand a rifle as mission-adaptable as you are.”
Another ad touted the rifle’s masculinity: “Consider your man card reissued.”
The attorneys chimed that somehow these influenced Adam Lanza to use the Bushmaster in his killing spree — that he was “encouraged” by those ads to use it to commit his atrocity at Sandy Hook. In its ruling last March that overturned the lower court, the state’s Supreme Court obliquely agreed: “If the defendants’ marketing materials did in fact inspire or intensify the massacre, then there are no more direct victims than these plaintiffs.”
Chief Justice Richard Robinson spoke for the Connecticut court’s majority:
If the defendants did indeed seek to expand the market for their assault [sic] weapons through advertising campaigns that encouraged consumers to use the weapons not for legal purposes such as self-defense, hunting, collecting, or target practice, but to launch offensive assaults against their perceived enemies, then we are aware of nothing in the text or legislative history of PLCAA to indicate that Congress intended to shield the defendants from liability for the tragedy that resulted.
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