Bridgeport, Connecticut—Standing not more than three feet from families of several Sandy Hook victims in a Connecticut courtroom on Monday, a lawyer for Remington Arms Company asserted the gun manufacturer cannot be held accountable for anything that happened inside the elementary school in Newtown three years ago.
“Congress has expressed its clear intention that these kind of cases against firearms companies shall not be brought,” said attorney James Vogts, referring to the infamous 2005 legislation that shielded gun manufacturers and sellers from a wide range of civil claims. “It’s an immunity from having to litigate at all.”
If he’s right—and he may be—Monday’s hearing on a defense motion to dismiss was the first and last time Remington will be in Connecticut Superior Court for a meaningful hearing about the Bushmaster XM15-E2S assault rifle that Adam Lanza used to fire 154 bullets in 264 seconds, killing 20 children and six school administrators.
Amid all the strong legal disagreements about complex areas of liability law, there was one thing everybody agreed upon: Congress gave gun makers a remarkable level of protection when it passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA.
“This is unique in the sense that it’s the only industry that has any kind of immunity, and that really is just an extension of the gun lobby’s pull on Congress,” Joshua Koskoff, who is representing the Sandy Hook families, told reporters before the hearing.
Bill Sherlach, whose wife, Mary, was killed when she confronted Lanza in a hallway at Sandy Hook, lamented before the hearing that “You have a product that has a high degree of lethality, yet it has been provided with a shield that can prevent any accountability.”
The legal team representing the families is trying to punch through PLCAA and get to trial using two of the six exemptions written into the law. One exemption permits lawsuits if a manufacturer or seller knowingly violated a state law “applicable to the sale or marketing of the product,” and one allows suits against gun sellers for negligent entrustment of firearms.
The plaintiffs allege that Remington—and Riverside Gun Sales, which sold Nancy Lanza the Bushmaster XM15-E2S, and Camfour, a Massachusetts distributor which served as an intermediary between the gun shop and Bushmaster—violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act by deliberately marketing and advertising a gun with enormous killing potential, and highlighting that killing potential in advertisements. “Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered,” read one Bushmaster catalogue.
Remington and the other defendants claim the ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in City of New York v. Beretta narrows that exemption as applicable only to laws that “expressly regulate firearms” or “that clearly can be said to implicate the purchase and sale of firearms.” Their argument is that allowing a claim under a broad Connecticut tort law would swallow the entire gunmaker immunity designed by Congress.