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NOTE: This is an expanded version of a story initially posted on Tuesday, November 14, 2017.
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HARTFORD — Members of the Connecticut Supreme Court this week heard oral arguments in the Sandy Hook School gun lawsuit, through which the ten plaintiffs are seeking to have the Supreme Court send back that dismissed lawsuit to state Superior Court for a jury trial.
The seven-member Supreme Court has no time limit for issuing a decision on the matter, which was in court on November 14.
The plaintiffs allege, in part, that the semiautomatic military-style rifle used in the December 14, 2012, shooting incident at Sandy Hook School, in which a gunman shot and killed 20 first graders and six adults, was negligently entrusted to the public, and that the defendants violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) in aggressively and unethically marketing that rifle to the public.
The plaintiffs are the families of nine people killed in the incident and also one survivor. The defendants include Remington Arms Company, among several other related gun firms.
Describing the shooting incident as a “singular event in Connecticut history,” the appeal asks that the state Supreme Court decide whether the sellers of the weapon used in the shooting can be held accountable for the deadly incident under the terms of applicable Connecticut law.
The appeal states, “The loss of twenty first-graders and six educators would shake any community to its core. [Our community] had to grapple with the manner in which those lives were lost. Children and teachers were gunned down in classrooms and hallways with a weapon that was designed for our armed forces and engineered to deliver maximum carnage. The assault was so rapid that no police force on earth could have been expected to stop it.
“Fifty-pound bodies were riddled with five, eleven, even thirteen bullets… It is the reality the defendants created when they chose to sell a weapon of war and aggressively market its assaultive capabilities… Ten families who paid the price for those choices seek accountability through Connecticut common [law] and statutory law. It is only appropriate that Connecticut’s highest court decide whether these families have the right to proceed,” it adds.
In court on November 14, attorney Josh Koskoff, representing the plaintiffs, said, “Remington may not have known Adam Lanza, but they had been courting him for years” through its use of a militaristic advertising campaign to market the military-style rifle to young males. The shooter was 20 years old when the incident occurred.
Through its advertising, Remington promoted the militaristic and assaultive aspects of the firearm, Mr Koskoff said. Such weapons had been used in mass murder incidents that preceded the Sandy Hook School shooting, he said.
The shooter was attracted to such a weapon in light of its military aspect, Mr Koskoff said, noting that the shooter had received the weapon as a gift from his mother, Nancy, on his 18th birthday. Before he shot his way into the elementary school, he had shot and killed his mother at their Sandy Hook home. As police approached the school during the shooting incident, he shot and killed himself.
Mr Koskoff told the Supreme Court that Remington had first started advertising the gun when the shooter was 14 years old, noting that the shooter had played violent video games in which such weapons were featured.
“What we have here is the conduct of a corporation that thought it was above the law, and still thinks it’s above the law,” Mr Koskoff said.
Attorney James Vogts, representing Remington, told the Supreme Court, “What happened in the school that morning was horrific.
“The [applicable] law needs to be applied dispassionately,” he said. The case does not require that applicable law be reexamined, he said.
Mr Vogts challenged whether the principle of negligent entrustment applies to a Remington firearm having been sold to Nancy Lanza.
Also, the plaintiffs have not explained how gun advertising fits into the legal concept of negligent entrustment, Mr Vogts said.
Mr Vogts also questioned whether CUTPA, which concerns unfair trade practices, applies to the gun lawsuit.
Mr Vogts said the Remington firearm is suitable for hunting, target practice, and home defense. In response to a past US Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives statement that the weapon serves no sporting purpose, Mr Vogts disagreed.
“This gun is suitable for sporting purposes and is used for suitable sporting purposes,” he said.
Attorney Christopher Renzulli represents defendant Camfour, Inc. That firm is the gun distributor that supplied the firearms shop where Nancy Lanza bought the gun. Mr Renzulli said, “This gun was appropriate for sale to Mrs Lanza at that time.”
Following the Supreme Court session, standing with the plaintiffs on the front steps of the courthouse, Mr Koskoff said, “This is a court that is taking its job very seriously… [It] is tremendously comforting.
“Remington knew exactly what it was doing [in advertising the gun]… That’s how they drag in customers like Adam Lanza,” Mr Koskoff said.
Ian Hockley, the father of one of the children killed in the incident, read a statement.
“Five years have passed since our son Dylan was murdered in his first grade classroom, shot at least five times at point-blank range with the Bushmaster [rifle] variant of the military’s primary battlefield rifle,” he said.
“In the military, a weapon of this type is quite rightly subject to strict rules around its use and storage,” he said.
“Soldiers go through more than 100 hours of extensive training, and are carefully screened for mental illness, before being issued the weapon. A missing weapon in peace time calls for a lockdown on the base, and losing one in war is a court martial offense.”
“The manufacturer of the Bushmaster takes no such precautions when unleashing their product onto the civilian market.”
“They could not care less what happens to the guns once the cash is in the bank, showing utter disregard for the lives this weapon takes and the families it destroys,” he said.
“Furthermore, they actively market the weapons to unstable individuals. Take for instance, their advertisement, Consider your ‘man card’ reissued. What could be more negligent than that?” he asked.
“We, the plaintiff families of the victims of the Sandy Hook School massacre, have infinite patience to see justice done and utmost faith in the legal system to serve the people it is meant to protect. We have not lost one ounce of confidence in the justness of our case,” Mr Hockley said.
In October 2016, Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis dismissed the gun lawsuit, resulting in the Supreme Court appeal. The lawsuit is dated December 13, 2014. Through their lawsuit, the plaintiffs seek monetary damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, costs, and injunctive relief.