The people who sell the weapon of choice for mass killers are going to have to reveal exactly how they peddle their message that wielding a weapon designed for military combat makes sense for ordinary civilians.
That’s good news for all of us. The mothers and fathers of the children slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, through their lawsuit against Remington Arms over the sale and marketing of AR-15 assault rifles, may succeed in bringing a sorely needed measure of accountability to the firearms industry.
The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday passed on taking up Remington’s appeal of a Connecticut Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for the Sandy Hook families to continue their suit against Remington, the manufacturer of the Bushmaster used in the slaying on Dec. 14, 2012. It was the right decision, and it sets the stage for a critical phase in the struggle against the NRA and the gun industry.
The AR-15 and its variants, the massively popular civilian version of the M-16 military assault rifle, have become “America’s rifle,” according to the National Rifle Association. They have also become the weapons of choice in mass murders — including the 2018 Parkville shooting (17 dead), the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting (26 dead), the 2017 Las Vegas shooting (58 dead, hundreds injured), the 2015 San Bernardino attack (14 dead), and, of course, the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Up until now, because of a 2005 federal law, the gun manufacturing industry has not been held accountable for its role in manufacturing, selling and marketing these weapons to those who would use them to kill. But the Sandy Hook families are seeking to change that.
They are seeking information about Remington’s marketing strategy for the Bushmaster AR-15. The question is whether gun manufacturers such as Remington actively marketed assault weapons such as the AR-15 “to civilians for criminal purposes” in violation of the state’s consumer protection laws, Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard Palmer wrote in the March decision.
“We also conclude that Congress has not clearly manifested an intent to extinguish the traditional authority of our legislature and our courts to protect the people of Connecticut from the pernicious practices alleged in the present case. The regulation of advertising that threatens the public’s health, safety, and morals has long been considered a core exercise of the states’ police powers,” Justice Palmer wrote.
Remington appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court on Tuesday announced that it would not overturn the decision, despite urging from the NRA, 22 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 10 states.
Now, Remington’s secret marketing strategy could be subject to subpoena in the lawsuit in Connecticut courts as the process of discovery in the case moves forward. The decision paves the way for other states to use the same strategy, based on their own consumer protection laws.
“The M.O. of any big industry is to reveal as little as possible,” Josh Koskoff, a lawyer for the families, said. “But in many ways the goal of this lawsuit is to shed light on those documents so the families can see how the gun used in this shooting was marketed, so we will do everything we can to insure that this is a transparent process.”
As the case moves forward, the courts may succeed in doing what Congress has been unable to — stop or slow the spread of weapons that should be off the streets. Those who disagree with the ruling lean on the Second Amendment, but the AR-15 is different from other rifles used for target shooting, hunting or legitimate recreational purposes. It is capable of rapid fire and destruction on a far greater scale. Such weapons do not belong in civilian hands.
The tobacco companies settled lawsuits after the truth of how they were marketing cigarettes came to light. Purdue Pharma is being held responsible for marketing Oxycontin when it knew the drug’s dangers. Now Remington is going to have to answer for its tactics as well.
This is an important step toward meaningful reform of a gun industry that for too long has been able to evade responsibility for its role in some of this nation’s saddest chapters.