The U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday a survivor and relatives of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting can pursue their lawsuit against the maker of the rifle used to kill 26 people.
The justices rejected an appeal from Remington Arms that argued it should be shielded by a 2005 federal law preventing most lawsuits against firearms manufacturers when their products are used in crimes.
The court's order allows the lawsuit filed in Connecticut state court by a survivor and relatives of nine victims who died at the Newtown, Connecticut, school on Dec. 14, 2012 to go forward.
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“The families are grateful that the Supreme Court upheld precedent and denied Remington’s latest attempt to avoid accountability. 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,” attorney Josh Koskoff, of Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder, said in a statement.
The lawsuit says the Madison, North Carolina-based company should never have sold a weapon as dangerous as the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle to the public. Gunman Adam Lanza used it to kill 20 first graders and six educators. It also alleges Remington targeted younger, at-risk males in marketing and product placement in violent video games. Lanza was 20 years old.
Lanza earlier shot his mother to death at their Newtown home and killed himself as police arrived at the school. The rifle was legally owned by his mother.
The Connecticut Supreme Court had earlier ruled 4-3 that the lawsuit could proceed for now, citing an exemption in the federal law. The decision overturned a ruling by a trial court judge who dismissed the lawsuit based on the 2005 federal law, named the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
The federal law has been criticized by gun control advocates as being too favorable to gun-makers, and it has been used to bar lawsuits over other mass killings.
The case is being watched by gun control advocates, gun rights supporters and gun manufacturers across the country, as it has the potential to provide a roadmap for victims of other mass shootings to circumvent the federal law and sue the makers of firearm.
The 2005 federal law has been cited by other courts that rejected lawsuits against gun-makers and dealers in other high-profile shooting attacks, including the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting and the Washington, D.C., sniper shootings in 2002.
The National Rifle Association, 10 mainly Republican-led states and 22 Republicans in Congress were among those urging the court to jump into the case and end the lawsuit against Remington.
Gun rights supporters told NBC Connecticut they worry about what the Supreme Court’s decision means for the future of the firearm industry.
“We have a concern about frivolous lawsuits against firearm manufacturers,” Connecticut Citizens Defense League President Scott Wilson said. “If the firearm industry is allowed to be sued continually and unfettered, then that could potentially bankrupt the industry."
Wilson said the Bushmaster AR-15, which has been banned in Connecticut since 2013, is a commonly-used firearm that should be protected.
“Ultimately it really is the culpability of the individual that committed the crime. Products can be bought and misused, baseball bats can be misused. Motor vehicles can be misused driving through crowds of people. There’s a lot of different ways that people can cause harm to multiple people. The firearms in question were legally sold, legally transferred and at the end of the day it comes down to the fact that they were stolen and misused,” Wilson said.
Newtown Action Alliance released a statement on Tuesday afternoon, calling the Supreme Court decision historic.
“The gun industry and the gun lobby have worked for years to convince Americans that AR15s are ‘modern sport sporting rifles,’ when in reality they are nothing more than weapons of war used to hunt our children and loved ones in our schools, places of worship and other public places all across America," Po Murray, chairwoman of the Newtown Action Alliance, said in a statement.
Elected officials have also responded to the decision.
“Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Sandy Hook families will have their day in court—a day to make their voices heard and a day to ensure that no other family has to endure the grief they have faced. We have seen countless lives lost and senseless devastation in our communities as a result of this weapon’s use. Today may not bring full closure for those impacted, but it is a step toward progress in their fight for justice. However, we still need a moment of action in Washington to bring an end to the mass shootings that have become an everyday tragedy for our nation,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement.
"Sandy Hook families have successfully surmounted a sweetheart federal statute favoring gun companies. I’ll continue the fight to repeal the federal law (PLCAA) that has closed courthouse doors to countless other victims & families," U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said on Twitter.