Gun rights supporters bashed the decision as judicial activism and overreach.
The court's narrow decision, overturning a lower court judge, rules that Remington can be sued over its marketing practices under a ct state law, despite protections offered to gun manufacturers by federal law. According to the lawsuit, the business of selling "modern sporting rifles" to the general public is one giant tort, even though these guns are very rarely used to commit crimes.
"The regulation of advertising that threatens the public's health, safety, and morals has always been considered a core exercise of the states' police powers", Justice Richard Palmer wrote for the majority, adding he didn't believe Congress envisioned complete immunity for gun-makers.
The lawsuit, by relatives of nine victims and one survivor, points to the "militaristic" marketing of Remington's AR-15 rifle.
The attacker in the December 14, 2012, shooting took the Bushmaster rifle from his mother, killed her, then took the AR-15 and other stolen guns to school and killed 26 others.
The firearms company had convinced a lower court that a federal law enacted in 2005 limited the liability of firearms manufacturers and dealers, essentially pre-empting wrongful death suits in state and federal courts.
Remington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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[The Sandy Hook attacker] carried out this massacre using a Bushmaster XM15-E2S semiautomatic rifle that was allegedly manufactured, distributed, and ultimately sold to [his] mother by the various defendants in this case. The suit was brought by families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. He fatally shot her with the gun before beginning the attack at the school. If that is the case, and in light of the difficulties that the federal courts have faced in attempting to distill a clear rule or guiding principle from the predicate exception, Congress may wish to revisit the issue and clarify its intentions. "But what we've said from the outset is, all we want is our day in court", he said.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearm industry's trade association, said it was reviewing the decision and did not have an immediate comment. But there are exceptions for violations of state laws, and that's what the CT court will now allow a state court trial to examine.
Justices wrote in the majority opinion that "it falls to a jury to decide whether the promotional schemes alleged in the present case rise to the level of illegal trade practices and whether fault for the tragedy can be laid at their feet".
Legal experts said the outcome could have broad ramifications. "It will change the legal landscape for this industry, potentially all across the country". The Sandy Hook families will still need to argue this theory in Bridgeport Superior Court, where the case will return after the ruling. They argue the AR-15-style rifle used by shooter Adam Lanza was designed as a military killing machine and is too risky for the public, but Remington glorified the weapon in marketing it to young people. "Today's decision is a critical step toward achieving that goal", Koskoff said.
The lawsuit seeks undisclosed damages. Several groups, ranging from the NRA to emergency room doctors, submitted briefs to the court. Courts have dismissed other similar wrongful death lawsuits on those grounds.
Robert J. Spitzer, chairman of political science at the State University of NY at Cortland and an expert on guns and the Second Amendment, said the CT ruling runs counter to the 2005 federal law. They could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The likelihood they'll succeed is small", he said.
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