By the simple expedient of denying (without comment) the Remington Arms Company a hearing, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a state-court lawsuit in Connecticut to move forward holding the gun manufacturer liable for damages associated with the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Remington and its gun-lobby allies had argued that the company was shielded from liability by a 2005 federal law aimed at precisely that purpose. But attorneys representing families of Sandy Hook victims argued that the federal law included an exemption for actions that violated separate state laws, and sought an opportunity in a trial to make the case that Remington’s marketing of its weapons ran afoul of Connecticut laws prohibiting unfair trade practices.
The state trial judge ruled in favor of Remington, but in March the Connecticut Supreme Court (in a 4-3 decision) disagreed, allowing the suit to go forward. Since interpretation of a federal law was the key issue, the arms company appealed to SCOTUS, leading to today’s decision not to intervene.
This does not mean the plaintiffs will necessarily prevail at trial. But they will be given the opportunity to make their argument, which will open up all sorts of avenues for forcing weapons manufacturers to disclose the dark secrets of their marketing strategies, and how they affect people like the Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza. The New York Times explained that angle after the Connecticut court’s ruling:
Lawyers pointed out advertising — with messages of combat dominance and hyper-masculinity — that resonated with disturbed young men who could be induced to use the weapon to commit violence.
“Remington may never have known Adam Lanza, but they had been courting him for years,” Joshua D. Koskoff, one of the lawyers representing the families, told the panel of judges during oral arguments in the case in 2017. The weapon used by Mr. Lanza had been legally purchased by his mother, Nancy Lanza, whom he also killed.
In discovery during the upcoming trial, plaintiffs will try to expose internal documents from Remington that they believe will document their case, which might not only increase the company’s vulnerability to state laws involving marketing abuses, but could expose other companies around the country to all sorts of new scrutiny as well, as the Times noted back in March:
[The Connecticut decision] also paves the way for the families to subpoena internal documents on how the gun companies have marketed the AR-15, which has become the weapon of choice for mass shooters. The gun manufacturers have closely guarded information on how they market the assault weapons …
“The families’ goal has always been to shed light on Remington’s calculated and profit-driven strategy to expand the AR-15 market and court high-risk users, all at the expense of Americans’ safety. Today’s decision is a critical step toward achieving that goal,” [attorney Josh] Koskoff added [in a statement].
It’s not a good day for the gun lobby, even if Remington prevails in this one case.