This editorial originally appeared in The Washington Post.
Gun makers and sellers have never really had to account for the deadly consequences of their products, because of an unusual federal law enacted in 2005 that gives them immunity from most lawsuits. So the Supreme Court’s decision not to block a lawsuit brought in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting is a significant — and welcome — development. It may give the families of the victims their day in court while providing a roadmap for victims of other mass shootings who seek answers and some measure of justice.
The Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it would not consider an appeal from the manufacturer of the assault weapon used in the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, that took the lives of 20 students and six educators. The decision, issued without comment from any individual justice, lets stand a groundbreaking ruling from the Connecticut Supreme Court that found an exception in federal law allowing the manufacturer to be sued and potentially held liable under state law regarding unfair trade practices.
The case against Remington Arms, brought by relatives of nine victims who died and a survivor of the shooting, focused on how the AR-15-style Bushmaster used in the attack was marketed with militaristic and hypermasculine advertising and used product placement in videos to appeal to younger, at-risk males. The suit alleges it was no accident that the troubled 20-year-old Sandy Hook gunman chose this particular weapon — promoted under slogans like “Consider your man card reissued” — to carry out a murderous rampage that took less than five minutes.
The suit was originally filed in 2014, and the families had to overcome numerous obstacles in advancing their novel theory to get around federal protection of the industry. They still must go to trial and convince a jury that Remington is liable for the deaths of their loved ones. But by bringing the case to trial, they hope to get access to information long kept private by the gun industry that will provide insights into how the industry operates. “The families are grateful that the Supreme Court ... denied Remington’s latest attempt to avoid accountability,” said Joshua Koskoff, a lawyer for the families, “We are ready to resume discovery and proceed towards trial in order to shed light on Remington’s profit-driven strategy to expand the AR-15 market and court high-risk users at the expense of Americans’ safety.”