On March 14th, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that Remington, a firearm manufacturer, can be sued by the plaintiffs for liability due to the murders at Sandy Hook, overturning on appeal a trail judge’s determination that a firearm manufacturer can not be held liable for the criminal use of a product, as they are immune under a federal law – the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).
The decision by the Connecticut Superior Court does not dispute this, however. As a matter of fact, the court threw out nearly all of the plaintiffs’ arguments, because they were all absurd.
The only argument the plaintiff had left to paint Remington with liability was through its advertising, what they’re hoping a state law, the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA), allows them. Their claim is that Remington violated CUTPA by marketing AR15s to civilians for criminal purposes, and that those wrongful marketing tactics caused or contributed to the Sandy Hook massacre:
The plaintiffs’ second theory of liability was that the defendants marketed the rifle, through advertising and product catalogs, in an unethical, oppressive, immoral, and unscrupulous manner by extolling the militaristic and assaultive qualities of the rifle and reinforcing the image of the rifle as a combat weapon that is intended to be used for the purposes of waging war and killing human beings. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants advertised this rifle differently from how they would promote and sell rifles intended for legal civilian purposes such as hunting and recreation. In connection with this second theory of liability, the plaintiffs also alleged that the defendants’ marketing of the rifle to civilians for offensive assault missions was a substantial factor in causing the decedents’ injuries in that Lanza’s attack, had it occurred at all, would have been less lethal if Lanza had not been encouraged by the defendants’ marketing campaign to select the rifle in question as his weapon of choice.
What the Connecticut Superior Court has done now is state that while the trial court judge was right to dismiss most of the plaintiff’s arguments under the federal law PLCAA, the judge was wrong to dismiss the CUTPA “wrongful marketing tactics” claims:
For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the trial court properly determined that, although most of the plaintiffs’ claims should have been dismissed, PLCAA does not bar the plaintiffs’ wrongful marketing claims and that, at least to the extent that it prohibits the unethical advertising of dangerous products for illegal purposes, CUTPA qualifies as a predicate statute. Specifically, if the defendants did indeed seek to expand the market for their assault weapons through advertising campaigns that encouraged consumers to use the weapons not for legal purposes such as self-defense, hunting, collecting, or target practice, but to launch offensive assaults against their perceived enemies, then we are aware of nothing in the text or legislative history of PLCAA to indicate that Congress intended to shield the defendants from liability for the tragedy that resulted.
So the court is allowing the lawsuit to go forward on the plaintiff’s basis that Remington advertised the AR15 as the weapon of choice to “launch offensive assaults against perceived enemies”, and that influenced Lanza to murder people, so Remington is liable.
Being of the firearm enthusiast club for about two decades (not counting another decade of BB/pellet guns), I can honestly say I’ve never seen an ad that says, “buy an AR15 to kill your enemies” or for any other unlawful or criminal activities, though that’s completely anecdotal.
However, I have heard that the AR15 is the weapon of choice for mass murderers, just not from the firearm industry.
The Washington Post:
Assault rifles are becoming mass shooters’ weapon of choice
The Daily Beast:
Where mass murderers weapons of choice are sold with a smile
The Providence Journal:
Semiautomatics weapon of choice for mass murderers
Starting to see a pattern here? How many of these news organizations have outright stated (or “advertised”) what the plaintiffs are claiming Remington did? Remington has never even come close to advertising their version of the AR15 as “the weapon of choice for mass murderers”, yet that’s what the the plaintiffs are basically accusing them of.
And they’re accusing them of it subjectively. They use the following as an example of advertising for “criminal purposes”:
[Remington] feature[s] the slogan ‘‘[w]hen you need to perform under pressure, Bushmaster delivers,’’ superimposed over the silhouette of a soldier holding his helmet against the backdrop of an American flag.
They then state that this marketing led to the Sandy Hook murders because:
Lanza had dreamed as a child of joining the elite Army Rangers unit of the United States Army and was, therefore, especially susceptible to militaristic marketing.
This is what the Connecticut Supreme Court has allowed to go forward. And that’s fine, as ridiculous and absurd and aggravating as this all sounds. Have fun trying to prove Remington did a better job than the media outlets above advertising criminal activity to a would-be mass murderer by putting images up of the Armed Forces. That’s going to go over really well.
Not to mention this little important factoid: Adam. Lanza. Didn’t. Buy. The. Gun. Therefore, it wasn’t “unscrupulously” advertised to him. Good luck proving Lanza ever even looked at a Remington advertisement.
What if all he knew about AR15s to base his decision on murdering people was the media saying that they were the “weapon of choice for mass murderers”? Wonder what his search history shows…
Read the opinion here
Dissenting opinion here
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