The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by Remington Arms Co. LLC to a lower court’s finding that families impacted by the Sandy Hook massacre can sue the gun manufacturer. Advocates for gun reform say that the high court’s decision, which lets the lawsuit move forward, may help other victims and survivors of gun-related crimes sue the gun manufacturer.
These lawsuits have largely been prevented or not gone far because of a federal law enacted nearly 15 years ago. That law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, protects gun manufacturers as well as sellers from lawsuits based on injuries and deaths caused by “criminal or unlawful misuse” of a gun. However, a lawsuit can still be brought if a company has “knowingly violated a state or federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product.”
The decision by the Supreme Court comes just shy of the 7-year anniversary of the day a 20-year-old opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. He killed 26 people — 20 of them children.
The Sandy Hook plaintiffs were able to claim an exception to the law by accusing Remington of violating the state’s Unfair Trade Practices Act because it marketed the rifle used in the massacre — the Bushmaster XM15-E2S — to civilians as a military-style weapon. The majority of states (34, including Montana) currently don’t allow these exceptions.
However, gun control advocates still say that by allowing this suit to move forward, the Supreme Court has helped open the door to future litigation against the gun industry. Further, the discovery process in this case may help other plaintiffs. One law professor notes that the suit “will serve as a roadmap” for future lawsuits.