Sandy Hook families’ wrongful death suit against gun companies gets hearing

© Jonathan Ernst
A Connecticut judge heard arguments on whether a wrongful-death suit can proceed against gun companies despite a federal shield law. The suit was filed by families of nine children and adults killed in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting of 2012.

Judge Barbara Bellis of the Bridgeport Superior Court heard arguments, but didn’t issue a ruling on Monday. She said that she will rule within the next 60 days as to whether the lawsuit can go forward to trial or be dismissed, according to The Associated Press.

The lawsuit targets the manufacturer and seller of the AR-15 rifle used to kill 20 children and six adults in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. The families and a teacher who survived the attack argued the rifle is a lethal military weapon that should not have been sold to the public, citing an exception in the law. The families are suing Freedom Group, the parent company of Bushmaster Firearms, which produced the rifle, as well as Camfour, a firearms distributor; and Riverview Gun sales, the store where the gun was bought.

“This is an instrument of war designed for the battlefield that is marketing and sold to the general public,” said Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was killed in the massacre, reported AP. “We’re just asking for accountability.”

The families are seeking unspecified monetary damages, hoping a victory in court will persuade gun companies not to sell the AR-15s to the public.

Lawyers for Freedom Group said the company is protected by a 2005 federal law that shields gun manufacturers from most lawsuits over criminal use of their products.

“Congress has expressed its clear intention that these cases against firearms manufacturers shall not be brought, and the process by which the law was passed needs to be respected,” said James Vogts, an attorney for the rifle’s manufacturer, according to The Guardian.

They also argued the lawsuit was akin to holding “a car manufacturer responsible for a criminal carjacking a vehicle and using it to kill pedestrians,” according to The Guardian.

State police said that Adam Lanza, 20, killed his victims with a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rile, an AR-15 model, on December 14, 2012. He killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their Newton home with a different gun before going to the school a few miles away and carrying out the massacre. He then killed himself as police arrived. His mother had legally purchased the rifle and ammunition used in the shooting, state police said.

In a related case, last October a Wisconsin jury found the owners of a Milwaukee gun store liable for the wounding of two police officers in 2009. The gun used to shoot the officers had been illegally acquired by a teenager through a “straw buyer.”

The jury found that Badger Guns broke four firearm laws when it sold Collins the gun that Burton later used to shoot Milwaukee police officers Bryan Norberg and Graham Kunisch.

Burton was sentenced to 80 years in prison, while Collins received two years in federal prison on a straw-buying conviction.

In a rare instance of gun-sale liability, the jury ordered the store to pay almost $6 million in compensation and damages to the officers, pending appeal.