Almost five years ago, the silence in Newtown, Connecticut was split as shots rang out at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The violence would leave 27 deceased at the school, and one deceased at a home a few miles away. The shooter, Adam Lanza, shot himself with a Glock at the end of his rampage, which ended at 9:40 AM. Today, the families are bringing suit against the companies that made the firearms Adam Lanza carried.
The rampage didn’t begin at the school. The first person that Adam Lanza killed was his own mother, shooting her four times in the head with a .22LR rifle. After murdering his mother, Adam retrieved the firearms that she had taught him to fire, and set out in her car for Sandy Hook. Now those people are looking to sue the gun manufacturers for the weapons.
Wearing an olive-drab utility vest and carrying multiple magazines for the weapons he was carrying, Adam walked into the elementary school and began to fire at student and faculty alike using a Bushmaster AR15-style rifle. Adam was brutal in his acts, killing 20 children aged six to seven years old in the process.
Due to Adam Lanza committing suicide, the question of motive has remained a salient one, even half a decade later. A toxicology report found that he had no known intoxicants in his system at the time of the shooting, and medical examination found that Adam Lanza was not suffering from any sort of brain tumor that might have explained the violence.
The Report of the Office of the Child Advocate suggested that the shooting was not a sudden event. It reads, “there was not one thing that was necessarily the tipping point driving Lanza to commit the Sandy Hook shooting. Rather, there was a cascade of events, many self-imposed,” a list that the Office of the Child Advocate would suggest included loss of school, a lack of any meaningful work, the loss of contact with his one friend, an obsession with mass murderers, and fears about the change in his relationship with his mother, Nancy Lanza.
What is clear is the result of the shooting, and the grief it brought to the families in the community. This grief acted, as it so often does, to energize those who would seek to ban firearms from their fellow citizens. In quick order, the shooting and the deaths inflicted in it were being presented as the basis for the need for further gun control.
The firearms that Adam Lanza used in the school were owned by his mother, including both pistols and the Bushmaster AR-platform rifle that he used to inflict the majority of the carnage. Within hours of the shooting, the rifle was identified as an AR-15 rifle made by Bushmaster, and calls for various regurgitated gun control ideas were renewed. Within hours of the shooting, then-President Barack Obama made a televised statement, saying, in part, “we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of politics.”
On January 16th, 2013, Barack Obama announced his plan to “prevent” such a tragedy from occurring again; closing background check “loopholes,” banning “assault weapons” and what he considered high-capacity magazines, making schools safer, and increasing access to mental health services. President Obama undertook a variety of steps via executive agencies to reach his desired end, but the congressional agenda for gun control was dead in the water.
The families that lost children to the shooting, however, did push forward their agenda. In 2015, two families affected by the shooting filed suit against Newtown and its school district, claiming that lax security allowed this massacre to occur. Even this was not the first lawsuit related to the shooting, however.
Shortly after the shooting, ten families, as well as one of the wounded teachers, came together and filed a lawsuit against Bushmaster, claiming negligence in the selling of a “weapon of war.” This lawsuit was dismissed in October of 2016, as there was no legal basis for holding a manufacturer responsible for the ill use of their product.
The families have put all their hopes into the appeals process. The families’ case will be heard in the Connecticut Supreme Court, which will decide whether to reverse the dismissal of the suit against Bushmaster.
Though gun control advocates are hopeful that the case will move forward, the law is not in their favor. The PLCAA protects gun manufacturers from frivolous lawsuits related to the products they sell and allows them to recover their legal fees in many such cases. If the Connecticut Supreme Court allows the case to proceed, the outcome may be a poor one for those who value their right to keep and bear arms, and may even serve to motivate gun control proponents to file more such frivolous lawsuits.
The PLCAA was passed to protect firearms manufacturers from precisely these sorts of frivolous lawsuits. All eyes are now on the Connecticut Supreme Court and their decision in this appeal. A decision for the plaintiffs will be a step toward suggesting that firearms manufacturers may be held liable in civil court for the evil that criminals do with their products, while a decision for the defendant will protect Second Amendment rights and uphold decades of liability jurisprudence.