Sandy Hook families ask state high court to reinstate gunmaker suit

By Allen Cone  |  Updated Nov. 14, 2017 at 8:41 PM
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Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Family of victims in the Sandy Hook school shooting appealed to Connecticut's highest court Tuesday to reinstate their previously-dismissed lawsuit against the manufacturer of the AR-15 assault weapon used in the attack.

On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, killed 26 people -- including 20 first-graders -- in the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., after killing his mother at their home. The weapon was made by Bushmaster, which is owned by Remington Arms Co.

Families of nine victims who were killed and a teacher who survived the shooting filed the suit against the manufacturer. The suit also named Camfour Holding LLP, the gun's distributor, and Riverview Gun Sales Inc., the East Windsor gun shop where Nancy Lanza, Adam's mother, bought the AR-15.

Plaintiffs' attorney Josh Koskoff said the families want the high court to return the case back to the Bridgeport Superior Court so "the discovery phase of this case can begin and we can start uncovering documents on how this military weapon ended up in civilian hands."

Koskoff read marketing materials from Bushmaster, which said its AR-15-style rifle is "the uncompromising choice when you demand a rifle as mission-adaptable as you are."

Koskoff said "Remington may never have known Adam Lanza but they had been courting him for years."

"It wasn't just that [Remington] marketed the weapon looking for people with characteristics of Adam Lanza, it was that Adam Lanza heard their message," Koskoff told the justices. "He idolized the military and Remington advertised the AR-15 as the weapon used by Army Rangers. He got it for his 18th birthday ... remember he was 14 years old when they started this marketing plan. I think they knew exactly what they were doing.

"That's how negligent entrustment works. You can't launder negligence through other parties," said Koskoff.

The attorney said other companies are held accountable for harm their products cause.

"Could you imagine the Ford Motor Company advertising a car that can run over people?" he asked. "What we have is the conduct of a corporation that thought it was above the law and still thinks its above the law."

The National Rifle Association has filed one of 16 Amicus Curiae, or "friend of the court" briefs in the case.

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2015, was dismissed in 2016 by a lower court. It ruled that gunmakers are largely exempted from liability under the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

The plaintiffs said the law does not protect Remington because it marketed the rifle "not for sport or for target shooting or self-defense" but "for exactly what it was," Koskoff said. "They used images of soldiers in combat."

Defense attorney James Vogts said "the law needs to be applied dispassionately. The manufacturer and the sellers of the firearm used that day are not legally responsible for his crimes and harms that he caused."

The company said it's up to legislators and not juries whether the AR-15 should be sold to the public.

Assault-style weapons were banned in Connecticut after the Sandy Hook shooting. A federal ban on such weapons was passed in 2004 but it expired 10 years later.

Ian Hockley, father of slain first-grader Dylan Hockley, said other plaintiffs have "not lost one ounce of confidence in the justice of our case" and they have the "utmost faith in the legal system to serve the people it's meant to protect."

He appeared at the hearing.

"Five years have passed since our son Dylan was murdered in his first grade classroom, shot at least five times at point blank range with a Bushmaster variant of the military's primary battlefield rifle," he said.

On the same day as the hearing, a series of shootings that ended at a Northern California elementary school left at least five people dead and 10 others injured, including two children, sheriff's officials said.

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