Prologue: On December 14, 2012 , 20 year old Adam Lanza entered The Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and murdered 20 six year- old first graders and six adults. He was shooting an AR -15 Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle and two semi- automatic pistols in the massacre. The children were killed in two classrooms while others hid in closets and under desks. Lanza had murdered his mother before he came to the school.
Sandy Hook parents’ actions over nine years: As a result of this dreadful massacre of their children, parents pledged to stop the manufacture of the rifles. They worked tirelessly with lawyers to be able to sue Remington , the manufacture of the Bushmaster. They learned that there was a federal law passed by Congress protecting manufacturers against such lawsuits. The law was the result of the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.) lobbying U.S. Senators and Representatives with a report card for each one on how they vote on guns.
The lawsuit they filed in Connecticut court focused on the marketing Remington used to attract buyers to the Bushmaster . Ads stressed the violence of combat. A typical slogan was “Consider your man card reissued!” Adam Lanza , a very angry disturbed man, had asked his mother to buy the guns for him. He knew she would be able to do it easily and she did.
Lawyers argued that the message Remington was sending in their advertising was designed to attract young men who were loners with problems. That they were looking for a way to be bold and attract attention.
The United States has witnessed too many mass shootings, but Sandy Hook had traumatized the entire nation. Pictures of the twenty little boys and girls were carried by hundreds of newspapers and shown on television for weeks. President Barack Obama invited leaders of the group to the White House. They joined him in The Rose Garden later and spoke of their determination to pursue Remington until the case was won. (I watched and remember them vividly that day, holding pictures of their children.)
Lawsuits take time to move up on a state system. Joshua D. Koskof, one of the lawyers for the families said, “The victims’ families were not going to go away.”
March 19, 2019- Nine years later: The case had reached the Connecticut Supreme Court. Koskof had brought it up to the highest court in the state and had won. He had said in his final argument, “Remington had never known Adam Lanza , but they had been courting him for years.”
The New York Times headline: “Highest Connecticut Court Rebuffs Firearms Industry in a Sandy Hook Lawsuit” In a 4-3 ruling, the justices agreed with a lower court judge’s decision to dismiss most of the claims of the families, but also found that the sweeping federal protections did not prevent the families from bringing a lawsuit based on wrongful marketing claims. The court ruled that the case can move ahead based on a state law regarding unfair trade practices.”
Justices in the majority opinion wrote, “It 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.”
Nicole Hockley, whose six year old son Dylan was killed in his first grade classroom said, “No one has blanket immunity. There are consequences. We want our day in court to see why they do this, this way, and what needs to change.”
During the nine years, the families had received death threats and were harassed in different ways. However, they had been successful recently with their lawsuit against Alex Jones, the far right provocateur who spread false claims about the massacre , including that the families were actors paid in a plot to confiscate firearms.
Epilogue: Remington did not respond immediately. A trade organization representing the firearms industry said, “The decision today is at odds with all other state and federal courts…..”
In contrast, was a statement by Nora Freeman Engstrom, a law professor at Stamford University and an author of an amicus brief signed by law professors in the Sandy Hook case. She said, “ The ruling showed that the ‘federal protections were not impenetrable.” Joshua Koskof said, “This decision was a long time coming, but it was worth the wait.”
………………………………………………..Joyce S. Anderson