On Tuesday, November 12, the Supreme Court rejected the case of Remington Arms Co. v. Soto, allowing the lawsuit from family members of the victims of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook against the firearm manufacturer to continue.
The denial of the case could lead to further lawsuits and have significant implications on gun manufacturers in other states, including Texas, which has more firearm manufacturers and dealers than any other state.
After the brutal massacre at Sandy Hook that left 26 mostly children murdered, family members of the survivors blamed gun manufacturers for being involved in the madman’s heinous acts.
The families sued Remington Arms Company, the parent company for the manufacturer of the Bushmaster XM-15, an AR-15 style rifle used by the gunman.
At the same time, they also sued the distributor and retailer allegedly involved in selling the firearm to the murderer’s mother in 2010.
Remington and the other defendants pointed to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) of 2005 for their defense.
The federal law prohibits lawsuits against “manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms” for “harm solely caused by the criminal … when the product functioned as designed.”
On the basis of the PLCAA, a trial court in Connecticut rejected the lawsuit.
It was appealed, though, and a 4-3 decision from the Connecticut Supreme Court found that parts of the lawsuit were valid because of an exemption included in the PLCAA.
The law does not prohibit lawsuits regarding “an action in which a manufacturer … knowingly violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product, and the violation was a proximate cause of the harm for which relief is sought.”
According to the Connecticut Supreme Court, the plaintiffs contended that Remington “sought to grow the AR-15 market by extolling the militaristic and assaultive qualities of their AR-15 rifles and, specifically, the weapon’s suitability for offensive combat missions.”
They argued that this violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA), and the state supreme court found that this argument fell under the exemption of the PLCAA.
Remington then appealed the state supreme court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On behalf of several states including Texas, Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court asking them to take up the case to clarify the confusion about the PLCAA caused by the ruling in Connecticut.
“The Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision, however, injects confusion into this careful scheme,” read the brief. “In the process, it upsets existing state policy and hampers the States’ ability to effectively regulate an industry.”
In addition to arguments about how the Connecticut court’s decision creates confusion about the PLCAA, the solicitor general pointed out the uncertainty it gives to other gun manufacturers.
With the firearms industry providing 300,000 jobs — over 23,000 of which are in Texas — the brief argued that the Connecticut ruling could lead to other costly lawsuits for businesses in the industry.
“It will be no comfort to industry actors that novel claims like respondents’ ultimately may fail on the merits,” the brief read. “For small businesses in the amici States, the cost of defending against such suits — perhaps more than one at a time and in multiple States — may be too much to shoulder.”
The decision from the Supreme Court not to hear the case will allow the lawsuit against Remington to continue.
Which party will win the lawsuit is yet to be determined through the courts in Connecticut — a process that will likely see more repeals and could potentially return to the Supreme Court giving them another opportunity to weigh in on the PLCAA.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.