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Court lets families sue gun maker for Sandy Hook school massacre

16 March 2019

The gun manufacturer, Remington, could be sued over the shooting of 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School with a Remington rifle. "Today's decision is a critical step toward achieving that goal".

The decision represents a major victory for the families of the 20 first-grade children and six educators who were killed in one of the deadliest mass shootings in USA history, which inflamed outrage among gun control advocates who demanded lawmakers work to prevent mass shooting.

The plaintiffs alleged that Remington promoted the Bushmaster AR-15 style rifle for use against "perceived enemies", an argument a majority of the judges said deserved further scrutiny.

Justices are split on the question as the court is scheduled to release majority and dissenting opinions Thursday.

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The families had tried to advance the case on a relatively novel argument in gun litigation based on the legal doctrine of negligent entrustment, an argument historically used when someone lends a auto to a high-risk driver who then causes an accident.

In its decision Thursday, the court said state unfair-trade-practices law allows anyone who's suffered a financial loss from such activities to sue - "regardless of whether they had a business relationship with the person or entity that engaged in the prohibited practice". In reinstating a case that a lower court dismissed in 2016, the court seemingly adopted the families' novel way around a federal law that protects the gun industry from liability.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearm industry's trade association, said it was reviewing the decision and did not have an immediate comment. If that is the case, and in light of the difficulties that the federal courts have faced in attempting to distill a clear rule or guiding principle from the predicate exception, Congress may wish to revisit the issue and clarify its intentions. "We wanted our day in court".

Joshua Koskoff, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the state Supreme Court during arguments in November 2017 the Bushmaster rifle and other AR-15-style rifles were designed as military killing machines and should never have been sold to the public.

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The lawsuit seeks undisclosed damages.

The 2005 federal law, named the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, 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. They could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Still, allowing the lawsuit to move forward means that there will be an opportunity for discovery that would unearth company documents that could be embarrassing for Remington. The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed with Bellis: "We expressly reject the plaintiffs' theory that, merely by selling semiautomatic rifles-which were legal at the time-to the civilian population, the defendants became responsible for any crimes committed with those weapons".

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Court lets families sue gun maker for Sandy Hook school massacre