Families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre won a $73 million settlement with Remington Arms, last week.
The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, enacted in 2005 under President G. W. Bush, has protected gun and arms manufacturers from liability for mass shootings. Some in the gun world would say that this act is the reason the arms industry is still in business.
But the Sandy Hook plaintiffs found a workaround, arguing that Remington’s marketing of the weapon had violated a Connecticut consumer law.
The legal argument was that Remington engaged in marketing its Bushmaster AR-15 style rifle, the kind used by the shooter Adam Lanza, to a vulnerable audience and knowingly exploited feelings of insecurity in the young male demographic.
Plaintiff’s Attorney Josh Koskoff claimed that the adverts tapped into desires for masculinity, and feelings of aggrievement and that the shooter was exactly the company’s target audience.
Examples of advertisements include a picture of a rifle with phrases like “Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered” and “Consider your man card reissued.” The man card campaign included banners reading “Jeff is a crier” and “Jeff stayed at home to watch Mamma Mia with his finance instead of coming to poker night with the boys.” The ads encouraged reporting a friend for not ‘being a man’ because they didn’t own a Bushmaster by submitting their email address to the company.
There is a history of legal action against certain kinds of advertising. In 1938, the Federal Trade Commission was given authority to regulate ‘unfair or deceptive’ advertising. In 1971, it banned radio and TV advertisement of cigarettes. Likewise, ads for drugs, paraphernalia, counterfeit goods, weapons and explosives are also banned.
So, one question is whether or not this ruling will open the way for other victims of mass shootings to attempt this legal strategy. Note, not every U.S. State has in place a consumer law like that of Connecticut. And, it should be noted that Remington did not accept liability as part of the settlement. The company had gone bankrupt briefly in 2018 and then in 2020, company assets were permanently sold off. It was in the wake of its dissolution that a group of insurers agreed to the Sandy Hook settlement. Some suggest that otherwise, the case might have been more strongly litigated with a different result. In any event, this legal win may embolden other victims of shootings to litigate on the heels of this success.