By: Madeline Olds, Web Editor
On December 14, 2012, a shooter entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and committed one of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States, with twenty-six victims. It is the fourth deadliest shooting in the United States and the deadliest shooting to occur within an elementary school. Greatly highlighted after the shooting was the perpetrator’s access to the firearms in the first place, with calls for stricter gun control and accountability for firearms companies.Ten years later, the families of nine Sandy Hook shooting victims settled a lawsuit against Remington, the firearms company that created the gun used by the shooter to take their loved ones’ lives.
This lawsuit is the first of its kind, as typically firearms companies have been protected after mass shootings in the wave of litigation that follows. This protection comes from federal law, specifically the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). This law protects firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable when crimes have been committed with their product. However, PLCCA allows for manufacturers and dealers to be liable for damages from defective products, breach of contract, criminal misconduct, and other actions for which they are directly responsible for. The manufacturers and dealers can also be held liable for negligent entrustment when there is reasonable belief the gun was purchased for criminal use. The repeal of the bill has been introduced many times, even in the wake of Sandy Hook itself in 2013, but it has failed in committee each time. With there being more than 250 mass shootings as of 2019 in the United States, many want to have firearms companies held accountable for the actions that occurred; however, it is extremely difficult to do so with this law in place.
The suit brought by the nine families and one survivor, filed in 2014, was difficult case to make due to the nature of the PLCAA. The suit alleged that Remington’s marketing strategies violated Connecticut’s unfair trade practice laws when they “knowingly marketed and promoted Bushmaster XM15-E2S riffle for use in assaults against human beings.” After going through both state and federal court, the families settled with the four insurers of Remington for $73 million.
The success of the suit has brought out large, on-going political debate as to gun rights and use in America. Some gun rights groups believe the settlement will have little effect on rifle sales and gun manufacturers, but some experts believe that it may prompt insurers to pressure gun makers into some changes in practices of marketing or design. Other gun rights groups have slammed the suit, stating that holding firearms makers liable is well beyond the scope of liability, as the person responsible for the criminal conduct is the individual, not the companies. However, gun control advocates have felt this is a victory for the accountability of firearms companies in their association to the many mass shootings in America, and a victory for families and victims of mass shootings.
Whether a gun rights advocate or a gun control advocate, it is clear that the Sandy Hook suit has had a substantial effect on litigation surrounding mass shootings. With the number of victims and families effected by mass shootings, it will be interesting to see how litigation changes in the aftermath. The hope is that in the dark aftermath of such a horrific event, victims and families of victims can hold those who were at the source of the violence accountable.