More than 14 months after victims’ families sued Bushmaster Firearms in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the lawsuit is finally approaching the first critical test of a novel liability claim: Whether or not the riflemaker can be held responsible for the Sandy Hook massacre because of how it has marketed a military-style weapon to civilians.
The case was filed by relatives of nine of the 26 children and adults Adam Lanza killed with a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle. Bushmaster argues that the suit is barred under the decade-old federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which shields the gun industry from liability claims. A Connecticut state judge has scheduled a hearing for February 22 on the defendants’ motions to dismiss.
If the case survives this round—hardly a given, considering the difficulties other plaintiffs have encountered in trying to break through PLCAA’s immunity shield—the lawsuit would then head into uncharted territory, as the Newtown plaintiffs seek to use the industry’s marketing tactics against it.
Those tactics, never tested before under PLCAA, dominate the allegations spelled out in the plaintiffs’ complaint. It quotes several advertisements from a catalog aimed at civilian gun buyers that is adorned with action photos of camouflage-clad soldiers and police in body armor. One reads, “Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered.” Other images tout the rifle’s “military-proven performance” and call it “the ultimate combat weapons system.”