Washington, DC – The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a groundbreaking ruling from the Connecticut Supreme Court that said the families of the victims may sue the manufacturer of the rifle used in the of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court justices announced their decision not to take up the case – without individual comment from any one of them – meaning that the lawsuits by the victims’ families against Remington Arms Co. can proceed, ABC News reported.
Twenty children and six adults were gunned down at the Newtown elementary school on Dec. 14, 2012 by a shooter armed with a Bushmaster AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle.
The Washington Post reported that the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision in March affected a federal law that was designed to protect gun makers from liability for crimes that were committed by weapons they manufactured.
However, the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision allowed plaintiffs to go after the gun manufacturer for the manner in which their weapons were marketed and advertised, but not hold the companies liable for bad acts committed by third-party purchasers.
The Connecticut justices said that gun makers could be breaking state fair-trade laws by marketing "military-style" arms to civilians as a way of killing enemies, according to The Washington Post.
Initially, a lower court agreed with Remington’s argument that federal law prevented lawsuits by the families of the victims.
But the Connecticut Supreme Court said state consumer protection laws were exempted from the statute upon which the gun maker’s argument relied, The Washington Post reported.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has lobbied hard to have the U.S. Congress pass laws to indemnify gun makers from bad acts committed by their customers.
The NRA has argued that allowing victim and their families to sue manufacturers is a costly, unfair way to penalize the gun makers for crimes committed by others, The Washington Post reported.
“Lawsuits that deflect attention away from mental illness and criminals in order to blame inanimate objects won’t reduce violent crime or make anyone safer,” NRA Association Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Jason Ouimet said in a statement after the decision not to take up the case was announced by the court.
“The firearm on which citizens and first responders rely isn’t the actual problem; the sociopath who steals and misuses a firearm against innocent people is the real problem,” Ouimet said.
During the 2016 Democrat presidential debate, Senator Bernie Sanders argued with Hillary Clinton about whether gun manufacturers should hold liability for how their guns are used.
“What you’re really talking about is ending gun manufacturing in America. I don’t agree with that,” Sen. Sanders said at the time.
But gun control advocates celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision as a “crack in the legal armor of the gun industry,” The Washington Post reported.
“For years, gun manufacturers have been allowed to operate with near-blanket immunity — producing weapons of war and marketing them to the masses with zero accountability,” U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and U.S. Representative Jahana Hayes, all Democrats who represent Connecticut, said in a statement.
The case raises important questions about how lawmakers and judges interpret the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which granted broad immunity to gun manufacturer and dealers, NPR reported.
That law protects gun makers from liability and prosecution for crimes committed with products that they manufactured.
However, the 2005 federal law has an exception for lawsuits against gun manufacturers or sellers who have knowingly broken state or federal laws which govern how products are marketed and sold, according to NPR.
The lawsuit against Remington by the families of the Sandy Hook victims alleges that the gun manufacturer violated Connecticut’s unfair trade practices law when it "knowingly marketed and promoted the Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle for use in assaults against human beings.”
Initially, a Connecticut Superior Court ruled that the lawsuit against Remington could not go forward, but the state’s Supreme Court ruling in March superseded that, NPR reported.
Remington appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but now that those justices have declined to review the case, it will be kicked back to a lower court in Connecticut for review.