An appeal brought by family members of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting will be heard directly by Connecticut’s Supreme Court, as first confirmed last week. The plaintiffs had previously filed a lawsuit against the gun manufacturer, distributor, and retailer used in the massacre, though the case was dismissed by a Bridgeport Superior Court Judge in October.
The initial lawsuit was filed against gun producer Remington Arms, gun distributor Camfour, Inc., and gun retailer Riverview Sales, all of whom the families believe played a critical role in the shooting because of the aggressive marketing and selling of the AR-15 military assault rifle 20-year-old Adam Lanza used to slaughter 20 children aged six and under and six adults who tried to protect them. Prior to carrying out the gruesome act, Lanza murdered his mother, who was responsible for purchasing the weapon, then later shot himself to death on the school’s grounds before police could reach him.
Because the semi-automatic rifle is designed specifically for military use, the plaintiffs argued Remington violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act and should be held accountable for touting it as a necessary weapon of defense for the average layperson who is not trained in combat procedures. However, Judge Barbara Bellis dismissed the case on the basis of a federal law that protects gun manufacturers in cases where their products were used to cause harm.
In dismissing the case, Bellis’s ruling read, in part, “Congress, through the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), has broadly prohibited lawsuits against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms…for the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products…by others when the product functioned as designed and intended.”
While the product may have functioned as designed, it is hard to agree with Bellis’s claim that it functioned as intended; a weapon of war is not intended for the senseless and brutal murder of elementary school children and staff.
Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son Dylan was killed by Lanza, expressed her gratitude over the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case immediately; it is expected to be heard in early 2017. Seeking damages for the harms caused by Lanza through his criminal misuse of a deadly weapon, the families also hope to raise awareness about the importance of stricter gun control laws.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Josh Koskoff of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, said his clients felt some relief and comfort upon learning this latest news, stating, “We felt all along that, at the end of the day, the case was going to end up at the Supreme Court because it is such a significant and precedent setting case,” adding “We very much welcome the Court’s swift action, particularly as these families approach the fourth painful anniversary of the shooting. Time and again our Supreme Court has recognized the importance of allowing litigants their day in court and the indispensable role of a jury as arbiters of justice. That is all these families have ever asked for.”