BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (CN) — Victims of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School persuaded a Connecticut judge to advance their case against gunmakers Thursday.
The dispute boils down to one of immunity, Judge Barbara Bellis said, but it is premature in proceedings to determine whether it applies.
“We are thrilled that the gun companies’ motion to dismiss was denied,” said Josh Koskoff, an attorney for the families with Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder. “The families look forward to continuing their fight in court.”
The victory may be short-lived, however, as the gun manufacturers could restyle their objections with a motion to strike under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
While the motion to dismiss involved a challenge the court’s jurisdiction, the motion to strike under the PLCAA would go to the merits of the case, including whether Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act applies to the sale or marketing of firearms.
President George W. Bush signed the PLCAA, which includes exceptions from liability for gun manufacturers and sellers, after passage by Congress in 2005.
Attorneys for the defendants, which include Bushmaster Firearms and Remington Arms Co., have not returned requests for comment.
Sandy Hook killer Adam Lanza had been carrying a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, a model of the AR-15, when he executed 26 children and teachers in Newton, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
Survivors of the shooting and their families allege that the makers and sellers of the Bushmaster XM15-E2S “know that civilians are unfit to operate AR-15s, and yet continue selling the Bushmaster XM15-E2S to the civilian market, disregarding the unreasonable risks that the weapon poses.”
The rifle was purchased legally by Nancy Lanza, Adam’s mother, whom he shot and killed at their Newtown home before going to the school a few miles away.
Lanza killed himself as police arrived.
Statements applauding the ruling Thursday came from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The Brady Campaign’s Dan Gross said the victims’ families “deserve their day in court and we are pleased that at least for now they’ll get it, despite the defendants’ best efforts to derail this case. “
Malloy noted that Connecticut has “the toughest gun laws in the nation for a reason.”
“The gun industry should not have protections that no other industry in America sees,” he added. “This is a victory for the families and a victory for those who stand for commonsense gun laws.”
Clinton issued her statement condemning the PLCAA as she gears up to debate Bernie Sanders in Brooklyn this evening, just days before New York’s presidential primary.
The former secretary of state has made much of the fact that Sanders voted for the PLCAA, a law she says lets “irresponsible gunmakers” duck accountability.
“Unfortunately, PLCAA — the sweeping immunity law that protects gun manufacturers and dealers — still remains a major obstacle for these families and others seeking to hold these gun companies accountable,” Clinton said. “That is why, as president, I would lead the charge to repeal this law. Nothing can make these families whole again after losing their children and loved ones in Sandy Hook, but they deserve a president who will fight for them, and I am committed to doing just that.”
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