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Connecticut's Supreme Court Rules That Sandy Hook Families Can Sue Gunmaker


Consider your man card reissued. That was the slogan Remington used to market military-style Bushmaster weapons. Slogans like that one are at the heart of the case the Connecticut Supreme Court decided today. The court said relatives of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School can sue Remington over its marketing practices. Twenty kids and six adults were shot to death that day in 2012. One of the dead was 6-year-old Dylan Hockley, whose father, Ian, reacted to the ruling this afternoon.


IAN HOCKLEY: I can't say I'm excited by this ruling. I wish it was never here. But what we've said from the outset is, all we want is our day in court for the law to be upheld and for a jury to decide our case.

SHAPIRO: Polly Mosendz covers the gun industry for Bloomberg News and joins us now. Welcome back to the program.

POLLY MOSENDZ: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: There is a federal law that protects gun companies from lawsuits. Tell us about the law and why the state supreme court said this suit can proceed anyway.

MOSENDZ: Absolutely. So the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, also called the shield law because it shields these gun makers and gun distributors and gun sellers from lawsuits basically that relate to damage done with the products that they have either manufactured or sold, has been a very big deal since it was passed in 2005. However, there is basically a loophole in that law, and that refers to negligence. And in this case, we're really looking at whether the marketing of these products was in some way negligent.

So in this particular case, the supreme court has basically said that under the state's unfair trade practice law, the families are allowed to sue. And this is a flip from what the lower court had previously decided. In theory, we can have, actually, this go to trial. But we could also see an appeal from the gun industry here.

SHAPIRO: To the U.S. Supreme Court.

MOSENDZ: Absolutely - to the U.S. Supreme Court. Because the shield law is so very important to the gun industry, the NRA lobbied very hard to get this thing passed. I think that they're going to try really to defend it in every single way that they can especially because they have the risk of copycat suits in other states.

SHAPIRO: And because the U.S. Supreme Court seems friendly to gun rights right now. This was a 4-3 ruling, so the court was clearly divided on the issue. How is the gun industry reacting?

MOSENDZ: Well, in fact the gun industry actually pointed out that it was a 4-3 ruling. NSSF, which is the gun industry lobby - they made that point in the very first sentence of their statement about the ruling. And Dana Loesch, an NRA spokesperson - she did tweet about it because this ruling is going to become a very big deal for the Second Amendment community. And if this does in fact go to trial between the Sandy Hook families and Bushmaster, it's going to get a lot of attention from all sides.

SHAPIRO: You've talked about the likelihood that this ruling is going to be appealed. If the trial does go forward, then the plaintiffs would be able to access the gun maker's internal communications. How significant could that be?

MOSENDZ: I think what we will be seeing there is a very unique window into what marketing actually looks like for gun manufacturers. We'll learn about who was writing these things, if they had a really big ad agency working for them helping with this. We'll also perhaps see some communications to find out whether anyone at the company ever had concerns about how their potential buyers could be influenced by this marketing.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned the potential for other lawsuits. How many more could there be?

MOSENDZ: I think that's something that remains to be seen. But we have had a lot of major tragedies over the last few years. I mean, we look at Parkland. We look at Las Vegas, the Pulse shooting. Every single one of those could theoretically be a case. And there already is a case in Las Vegas that basically seeks to challenge the shield law when it comes to bump stocks, to argue that that kind of accessory is not part of the shield law's protections. So that's another challenge that we're going to see. It's a little bit different in its legal structure, but those challenges might just continue to proceed from here.

SHAPIRO: Polly Mosendz covers the gun industry for Bloomberg News. Thanks a lot.

MOSENDZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.