The Supreme Court announced yesterday that it will not interfere in a lawsuit from moving forward which was filed by the families of Sandy Hook victims against Remington Arms, the manufacturer of Bushmaster rifles.
A petition of writ certiorari, which is a plea for the Supreme Court to review the decision of a lower court, headed to Washington this past summer. The request was triggered after the Connecticut Supreme Court overruled an ever lower court’s decision that the estates of the families could not sue Remington.
The petition to the Supreme Court requested that the case against Remington not be permitted to move forward in the court system as the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”) “generally preempts claims against manufacturers and sellers of firearms and ammunition resulting from the criminal use of those products.”
Social media has lit up today with outrage over today’s announcement from the Supreme Court. However, SCOTUS’ decision not to intervene does not mean that Remington is negligent.
It simply means that the Supreme Court will not interfere with the case being litigated in the lower courts. The decision of the lower courts can still be appealed to the Supreme Court if the ruling is contested.
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Proponents of the lawsuit have cited that Remington intentionally marketed to unstable males and claim:
“The Bushmaster Defendants’ militaristic marketing reinforces the image of the AR-15 as a combat weapon used for the purpose of waging war and killing human beings.”
They further claim that the Bushmaster guns are more dangerous and appealing to potential mass shooters than other rifles because of characteristics including “matte black, non-reflective finish” The Federalist’s Madeline Osburn reports.
Attorneys for the Sandy Hook families state that the tactics used by Bushmaster violate Connecticut law which “does not permit advertisements that promote or encourage violent, criminal behavior” according to court findings.
So, it is to be argued if Remington negligently marketed the rifle to be used in such a manner. This is where the Supreme Court has decided not to prevent the case from being heard.
Several other organizations petitioned the Supreme Court in support of Remington. Brief amici curaie, which is an argument presented to the court by a party not immediately involved in the case, was initially filed on September 3, 2019 by the NRA along with the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a non-partisan, grassroots legislative action group from where the case originated.
The NRA and CCDL attested in the brief that to allow a manufacturer to be sued for misuse of its product will have a direct impact on Americans and their Second Amendment rights.
If a firearm is used criminally, in a manner in which it is not intended to be used, the manufacturer should not be responsible. To hold a manufacturer responsible will threaten the industry resulting in a de facto ban on firearms as it becomes cost prohibitive for manufacturers.
The brief states:
“The Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling in this case threatens the Second Amendment rights of all American citizens. The right to keep and bear arms means nothing if the ability to acquire those arms is not possible because the firearm industry is put out of business by unlimited and uncertain liability for criminal misuse of their products.”
In an additional brief filed, David Kopel of the Independence Institute argues that the mere reference to military imagery does not parallel to criminal misuse. He argues arms are core to our history and says:
“The exercise of the right to keep and bear arms has always had a relationship to military use of arms. For example, the first clause of the Second Amendment is about “a well regulated militia.”
So, today’s announcement by the Supreme Court is far from a total victory for the plaintiffs against Remington. There is still a lot to be proven in litigation that Remington was in fact negligent in their marketing and violated state law, resulting in an exemption from the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
The case calls into question what precedents will be set for other manufacturers in other industries and whether they will be held liable when their products are used in a manner other than intended.
Think auto manufacturers showing nightlife in ads- does it mean they will be responsible for drunk driving?
But for now, the decision is solely that the trial may proceed. However, who knows if the final verdict of Remington’s liability will, one day, come from the Supreme Court itself. However, for today, the Supreme Court will simply not stop the lower courts from hearing it.
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