The maker of the semi-automatic assault rifle that was used in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 can potentially be held liable for the 26 killings the gun was used to commit, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The decision represents a major victory for the families of the 20 first-grade children and six educators who were killed in one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, which inflamed outrage among gun control advocates who demanded lawmakers work to prevent mass shooting.
"I am thrilled and tremendously grateful," Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son Dylan was killed at Sandy Hook, told the New York Times. "No one has blanket immunity. There are consequences."
I am so proud of the Sandy Hook parents. They have never given up and are leading the way. https://t.co/a15pmZ2Xvr
— Robin Kelly (@RobinLynneKelly) March 14, 2019
Whoa, this is huge: The Connecticut Supreme Court just revived Sandy Hook families' lawsuit against Bushmaster for recklessly marketing the AR-15. Rules PLCAA does not preempt the suit. A massive victory for gun safety advocates. https://t.co/iXxK6tjJpF
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) March 14, 2019
In a 4-3 ruling, the state Supreme Court upheld a lower court's earlier decision that Remington, the maker of the AR-15 Bushmaster, should not be considered automatically immune from liability and lawsuits when their product is used in a crime.
The company may be guilty of making unlawful marketing claims, the court ruled, due to its promotion of a military-grade weapon for hunting and "recreational" use by civilians; its use of images of combat when selling the AR-15; and its use of slogans like "Consider your man card reissued."
Such marketing schemes "reflected a deliberate effort to appeal to troubled young men" like the one who carried out the shooting, the families' lawsuit reads.
"Remington may never have known" the shooter, the families' attorney, Joshua Koskoff said, "but they had been courting him for years."
"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," wrote Justice Richard Powers.
The families' lawsuit can now bypass the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which Congress passed in 2005, making it impossible for survivors of gun violence to hold manufacturers accountable for selling weapons to shooters.
It now "falls to a jury to decide whether the promotional schemes alleged in the present case rise to the level of illegal trade practices and whether fault for the tragedy can be laid at their feet," the state Supreme Court ruled.
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 last year.
"These families were not going to go away," Koskoff said in a statement after the ruling was handed down, "no matter how long it took."