Sandy Hook families vs. Remington: a small victory over the gunmakers

Last week the families settled a lawsuit for $73m against the manufacturer

A man holds a Bushmaster AR-15
A man holds a Bushmaster AR-15, the gun used in the Sandy Hook massacre
(Image credit: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“Even in a country where mass shootings had become a painfully common occurrence, the Sandy Hook massacre was a gut-wrenching moment,” said Rick Rojas in The New York Times.

On 14 December 2012, a 20-year-old gunman stormed an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 first-graders and six adults. President Obama gave a powerful speech at a memorial, in which he promised to curb the spread of firearms. His vow yielded little legislative action, but the families of the Sandy Hook victims have now achieved some accountability through the courts.

Last week, they settled a lawsuit for $73m against Remington, which made the AR-15-style Bushmaster rifle used in the massacre. It’s believed to be the largest payout by a gun manufacturer in a mass shooting case.

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America owes these families a great debt, said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post. They were told their case was unwinnable owing to the 2005 federal law that grants gunmakers sweeping immunity from civil liability. But they got round that by arguing that Remington – which agreed to release thousands of pages of internal documents about its marketing strategy as part of the settlement – had violated Connecticut’s consumer law.

They said it had marketed its semi-automatic rifles in a way that encouraged illegal use by enticing troubled young men. One advert for the Bushmaster carried the tagline, “Consider your man card reissued”; another included the phrase, “Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered.”

Since many states have unfair-trade-practices laws like Connecticut’s, it’s likely that gun-violence victims will bring similar cases elsewhere, said Timothy D. Lytton on The Conversation (London). But people shouldn’t get too excited. Last week’s payout may have had more to do with Remington’s effort to re-emerge from bankruptcy than “a new-found willingness among gunmakers to settle claims”. And the supreme court, which has yet to have its say on this issue, may decide that the federal immunity shield does cover such cases.

Besides, said Mike Kelly on, whatever happens now, there are already 20 million of these military-style assault rifles in the US. Some are owned by the police, but most are in the hands of civilians. “The war over guns in America is far from over. It has barely begun.”

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