Sandy Hook Decision Reins in Gun Industry Shield Law

Bloomberg Law

March 28, 2019

The Connecticut Supreme Court limited the scope of a federal law that shields gun manufacturers and dealers, reviving a lawsuit filed by Sandy Hook families. The Brady and Cohen Milstein attorneys examine the ruling and explain how it may have a domino effect nationwide.

By Julie Goldsmith Reiser and Molly J. Bowen of Cohen Milstein, and Jonatha Lowy of The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence

On Dec. 14, 2012, 20 first-grade children and six staff were murdered in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A Bushmaster semiautomatic assault rifle enabled the killer to fire 154 shots in 264 seconds.

Nine families sued the gun’s manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. Building on theories developed decades ago in a Brady lawsuit for victims of another assault weapon massacre, the Sandy Hook families argued that advertising the gun’s militaristic, hyper-aggressive attributes amounted to negligent marketing that was a cause of the shooting.

If the victims sued members of any other industry, they would have a right to discover facts that could support their claims. But victims of gun industry wrongdoing must first overcome the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a federal law that gives gun manufacturers and dealers unique exemptions from civil justice liability. PLCAA has provided even greater protections than legislators intended because courts have interpreted it overly broadly.

On March 14, the Connecticut Supreme Court properly reined in PLCAA’s protections, reversing the PLCAA-based dismissal of the Sandy Hook families’ case. Providing the most thorough analysis of PLCAA since its 2005 enactment, the court held that the victims’ wrongful advertising claim overcame PLCAA and may proceed into discovery.

This ruling should influence courts nationwide to construe PLCAA as it was intended—limiting cases where the gun manufacturer or dealer did nothing wrong, while allowing cases to proceed where the gun industry played a role in the harm or death.

Read Sandy Hook Decision Reins in Gun Industry Shield Law.