The ruling comes as yet another twist in the lawsuit’s circuitous path through the court system, one that continued far longer than many, including legal experts and the families, had initially expected.
The ruling had been delayed after Remington, the manufacturer and one of the nation’s oldest gun makers, filed for bankruptcy last year as its sales declined and debts mounted.
The lawsuit, brought by family members of nine people who were killed and a teacher who was shot and survived, was originally filed in 2014, then moved to federal court, where a judge ordered that it be returned to the state level.
The families were given a glimmer of hope when a State Superior Court judge, Barbara N. Bellis, permitted the case to approach a trial before she ultimately dismissed it. She found that the claims fell “squarely within the broad immunity” provided by federal law.
In 2005, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which restricts lawsuits against gun sellers and makers by granting industrywide immunity from blame when one of their products is used in a crime. Lawmakers behind the measure cited a need to foil what they described as predatory and politically driven litigation.
The law does allow exceptions for sale and marketing practices that violate state or federal laws and instances of so-called negligent entrustment, in which a gun is carelessly given or sold to a person posing a high risk of misusing it.
In the lawsuit, the families pushed to broaden the scope to include the manufacturer, Remington, which was named along with a wholesaler and a local retailer in the suit.
The lawsuit said that the companies were wrong to entrust an untrained civilian public with a weapon designed for maximizing fatalities on the battlefield.
Lawyers pointed out advertising — with messages of combat dominance and hyper-masculinity — that resonated with disturbed young men who could be induced to use the weapon to commit violence.
“Remington may never have known Adam Lanza, but they had been courting him for years,” Joshua D. Koskoff, one of the lawyers representing the families, told the panel of judges during oral arguments in the case in 2017. The weapon used by Mr. Lanza had been legally purchased by his mother, Nancy Lanza, whom he also killed.
Lawyers representing the gun companies argued that the claims raised in the lawsuit were specifically the kind that law inoculated them against. They said that agreeing with the families’ arguments would require amending the law or ignoring how it had been applied in the past.
James B. Vogts, a lawyer for Remington, said during oral arguments that the shooting “was a tragedy that cannot be forgotten.”
“But no matter how tragic,” he added, “no matter how much we wish those children and their teachers were not lost and those damages not suffered, the law needs to be applied dispassionately.”
It's a long shot, but it has the gun lobby running scared. They know the discovery process on this alone may sink Remington, the NRA, and possibly the entire industry. I expect swift federal action on this by Republicans, either to add closing the negligent entrustment loophole to must-pass legislation, tying this up until the Supreme Court's five conservatives can end it, or most likely both. Unfortunately, I don't see this case ever reaching the trial phase because the damage would be catastrophic to the gun lobby, and they damn well know it.
We'll see how this shakes out.