Wednesday, October 16, 2019
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CT Supreme Court Ruling in Sandy Hook Lawsuit Could Weaken Federal Gunmaker Immunity

Interview with Po Murray, chairwoman of Newtown Action Alliance, conducted by Scott Harris

On March 14, the Connecticut Supreme Court handed down a ruling that reinstates a wrongful death lawsuit filed by families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting against Remington Arms, the manufacturer of the rifle used in the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre. In their 4 to 3 ruling, the justices overturned a lower court decision that the lawsuit was prohibited by a 2005 federal law that shields gun manufacturers from liability when their products are used in crimes.
The plaintiffs, who include a survivor and relatives of nine people killed in the Sandy Hook massacre, argued that the AR-15-style Bushmaster rifle sold by Remington and used by shooter Adam Lanza was irresponsibly marketed and promoted to civilians to “carry out offensive, military-style combat missions against their perceived enemies.” The gunmaker used slogans in their advertising such as, “Consider your man card reissued.”
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Po Murray, chairwoman of the Newtown Action Alliance, established after the Sandy Hook massacre in her town, who assesses the significance of the ruling handed down by the Connecticut Supreme Court. She first reflects on the March 15 mass shooting in New Zealand where a white supremacist used a semi-automatic rifle to shoot and kill 50 worshippers at two mosques. Dozens more were injured.

PO MURRAY: The shooting obviously is very similar to many of the tragic incidents that occur in America and our hearts go out to their communities because we know firsthand, you know, what they’re going through right now. We truly appreciate the fact that their government has vowed to take swift action to change their gun laws. And we are watching very closely the way they are handling this mass tragedy. The prime minister has said that she would support the families that have been impacted by this, you know, horrendous act of terrorism and violence and we truly appreciate seeing that type of leadership because we don’t have that in America.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Po, I wanted to turn to local issues here and I wondered if you would comment for our listeners on the Connecticut Supreme Court ruling, which was handed down March 14 that reinstated a wrongful death lawsuit filed by families of nine victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting – that lawsuit against Remington Arms, the manufacturer of the rifle used in the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre of 20 6- to 7-year-old children and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton where you are.

PO MURRAY: We are extremely grateful that the Connecticut Supreme ruled in favor of the Sandy Hook families, because they certainly deserve their day in court to seek some justice. And hopefully, this ruling would be far reaching. We’re helping that other states could use their own unfair trade practice laws to come to the same conclusion that our Supreme Court did and give the families of victims of gun violence in all the states their day in court as well. But even if that does not happen, the discovery phase in each case will be extremely helpful to expose the gunsellers’ deceptive marketing and distribution and sales strategies of these very lethal weapons for all these years. As we are all aware of the discovery phase of the lawsuits against the tobacco industry, helped to turn the public sentiment. And it forced more accountability from Big Tobacco. We hope that this is a step in the right direction to the topple the NRA (National Rifle Association), the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) and other bad actors.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Po, can you talk a bit about the focus of this case, which was on the marketing of these weapons of war to civilian buyers here in the United States, with particular attention to some of the slogans that appeared in many of the ads for guns like the Bushmaster, the AR-15 that was used in the Sandy Hook shooting?

PO MURRAY: So, while the NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is headquartered right here in Newtown, claim that AR-15s and other weapons – lethal weapons – are not assault weapons. But at the same time, I have seen the advertisements for these type of lethal weapons. They market them as weapons of war and that, you know, “you get a man card if you own such a gun.” It would be great to be able to look into their marketing strategies to see if in fact, you know, they have used these deceptive and reckless marketing strategies to put these guns in the hands of very dangerous human beings.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Do you think in the long run, this Connecticut Supreme Court ruling will have any impact on the 2005 federal law that immunizes gun manufacturers from civil liability lawsuits brought by victims of gun violence? Because certainly this ruling actually targets what could be termed a loophole in that broad federal immunity to gun manufacturers.

PO MURRAY: In 2005, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce and Arms Act, called PLCAA. And it really was an unprecedented bill that generally protected the gun industry from the large majority of lawsuits with federal exceptions. It sent a chilling effect for the families and victims. And I’ll give you an example. One of my good friends, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, they lost their daughter, Jessie in the Aurora (Colorado) theater shooting in 2012 and they decided to sue the online ammunition dealer, called the Lucky Gunner, that armed their daughter’s killer in Aurora. The gunman was able to purchase more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition before the shooting spree without a background check, no questions asked. So they decided to sue the company and the judge dismissed the case based on that PLCAA law.

And, the family, Sandy and Lonnie were forced to pay more than $200,000 in legal fees to the defendants in accordance with the law. So Sandy and Lonnie were forced to file for bankruptcy and all they wanted to do was to hold them accountable for what they did and reduce the deceptive actions of these dealers. And it’s just tragic to watch families who lost their loved ones being victimized again by this horrific law that protects the gun industry.

PO MURRAY: But we are pushing Congress to take action. And in January, Rep. Dwight Evans introduced a bill, HR 157, called the Gun Manufacturers Accountability Act that will repeal the PLCAA provisions. And before this year, Rep. Adam Schiff and our own Sen. Richard Blumenthal introduced those in the 115th Congress to repeal PLCAA. And we hope that they will join our efforts to kill this terrible law that does nothing to protect these families and our children from gun violence.

For more information on Newtown Action Alliance, visit newtownactionalliance.org.

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