A divided Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Thursday that gun manufacturer Remington can be sued for alleged wrongful marketing of its Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, which was used in the mass murder of children and teachers at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
On Dec. 14, 2012, 20-year-old Lanza killed his mother at their home in Newtown, took an AR-15, a bag of 30-round magazines and shot his way into the Sandy Hook School. He then committed suicide.
"The number of lives lost in those 264 seconds was made possible by the shooter's weapon of choice", the plaintiffs said in their lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which lists Bushmaster Firearms International as the defendant, has already overcome years worth of legal hurdles after first being filed more than four years ago, more than two years after the shooting at the CT school left 26 people dead.
"Today's decision is a critical step toward achieving that goal", he added.
Federal law broadly grants immunity to gunmakers over the misuse of their products, but the the plaintiffs' lawyers used a relatively novel argument to convince the state's highest court to explore the question of whether the industry was so reckless in its marketing that it could have foreseen the appeal of an AR-15 to the unqualified or the disturbed.
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Nine of the families originally filed the lawsuit in 2014, and have faced delays as the case was sent from federal to state-level courts and as Remington filed for bankruptcy previous year.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearm industry's trade association, said it was reviewing the decision and did not have immediate comment.
Since Sandy Hook and subsequent school shootings, most federal efforts at gun control or gun rights expansion have faded and the bulk of firearms legislation has been in state legislatures across the country. An eventual ruling against Remington could establish legal precedent, opening doors for more lawsuits against gun manufacturers, and expose the company's communications about its marketing plans.
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.
Joshua Koskoff, a lawyer who represented families at an earlier hearing, said the ruling shows that nobody is above the law - "even a gun company that is powerful. that's politically connected".
The US Supreme Court has trended toward rejecting state law claims that are barred by federal law, he said.
The lawsuit, which was filed in 2015, was dismissed in 2016 by a lower court, ruling that gunmakers have broad immunity from liability under a federal law known as PLCAA, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. It wasn't immediately clear whether Remington will ask the state court to reconsider or appeal to the US Supreme Court. The weapon used by Mr. Lanza had been legally purchased by his mother, Nancy Lanza, whom he also killed. They contend that the AR-15-style rifle used by shooter Adam Lanza on December 14, 2012 is too risky for the public. Several groups, ranging from the NRA to emergency room doctors, submitted briefs to the court. The lawsuit will now allow the plaintiffs to gain access to internal Remington documents that can shed light on its advertising practices.