Families Fight to Hold Gunmaker Liable for Sandy Hook Shooting

To the right of Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald, Justice Richard Palmer questions an attorney for gunmaker Remington Arms at Nov. 14, 2017, oral arguments on negligence claims over the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (Pool photo by Cloe Poisson, Hartford Courant)

HARTFORD, Conn. (CN) — Blaming the gunmakers for the massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, an attorney for some of the victims sketched out the marketing of the Bushmaster assault rifle for the Connecticut Supreme Court on Tuesday.

“Remington may never have known Adam Lanza, but they have been courting him for years,” said Josh Koskoff, of the firm Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder. “And the courtship between Remington and Adam Lanza is at the heart of this case.”

Koskoff represents the families of nine victims as well a teacher who survived the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting in Newtown.

Connecticut’s high court took up the case last year after a judge threw it out, finding that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act shields gunmakers from liability when their firearms are used in crime.

Though early discovery in the case is sealed, Koskoff argued Tuesday it allows for the inference that gunmakers targeted young men like Lanza through video games like “Call of Duty.”

Two years before the carnage at Sandy Hook, Lanza received the gun as an 18th birthday present from his mother, Nancy.

Koskoff noted Tuesday that the Bushmaster is marketed as a military-style weapon of choice for Army rangers.

“Forces of opposition bow down,” one of Remington’s advertisements states. “You are single handedly outnumbered.”

The Connecticut Supreme Court hears arguments on Nov. 14, 2017, by attorney Josh Koskoff (left), representing families seeking damages from gunmaker Remington Arms over the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (Pool photo by Cloe Poisson, Hartford Courant)

Koskoff told the court that 20-year-old Lanza dressed in tactical gear for his onslaught. After firing 154 rounds in less than five minutes, Lanza used a Glock 20SF to kill himself in one of the school classrooms.

“Adam Lanza heard the message and was driven specifically to the Bushmaster,” the attorney added.

Nancy Lanza had been a teacher at Sandy Hook but she never made it to school that day. Lanza shot her to death that morning in her bed at the home they shared.

Though Remington’s attorney disputed that an advertisement can be deemed responsible for a wrongful death, Justice Andrew McDonald asked why Remington included the message about the “forces of opposition” in its advertisement.

Vogts emphasized the weapon is marketed for home defense.

“I would want to choose a firearm that would force any opposition to bow down,” said Vogts, an attorney with the Chicago firm Swanson, Martin, and Bell.

Vogts also argued that this specific advertising copy was not used for the gun Lanza used.

The attorney likened the case against Remington to unsuccessful health claims that smokers brought over tobacco advertisements.

“Under the law — federal law and Connecticut law — the manufacturers and sellers are not responsible for the crimes and the harm they cause,” Vogts said.

The Connecticut Supreme Court hears arguments on Nov. 14, 2017, by attorney Josh Koskoff (left), representing families seeking damages from gunmaker Remington Arms over the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (Pool photo by Cloe Poisson, Hartford Courant)

The 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act exempts Remington from claims of “negligent entrustment,” Vogts said.

Vogts argued that manufacturers are insulated from negligent-entrustment claim.

“You cannot make a negligent entrustment case against a nonseller,” he added. “The federal scheme is only applicable to sellers.”

Koskoff, on the other hand, countered that the federal law exempts negligent entrustment and state laws related to marketing practices.

Justice Richard Palmer asked whether Koskoff was asking the court to broaden its definition of negligent entrustment.

Koskoff said it’s something the court should have done years ago.

Asked a similar question about whether the law should be adapted to more modern times, Vogts said that’s not what the plaintiff’s are arguing.

“We’re hearing that the law of negligent entrustment needs to be ignored,” Vogts said.

Lasting approximately 90 minutes, Tuesday’s oral arguments attracted diverse supporters from around the country, including some of the plaintiff families.

Ian Hockley, whose Dylan was shot at least five times by Lanza at point-blank range, said Remington “could not care less what happens to their guns once the cash is in the bank.”

“Showing an utter disregard for the lives this weapons takes and the families it destroys,” Hockley added.

Remington is actively marketing its guns to people who are unstable, Hockley said.

He noted that the plaintiffs have “infinite patience” to see that justice is done.

Hockley’s appeal with the other families attracted amicus briefs from 16 sources, including the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is also headquartered in Newtown, and the National Rifle Association.

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