Many of us were stunned when news broke yesterday that Remington Arms had settled the 2015 lawsuit brought against them by the families of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Last July, two of Remington’s four insurance companies offered a $33 million settlement to the families of the 20 students and six staffers killed by Adam Lanza. Two of the companies held out.
That settlement offer was rejected.
This time, however, attorneys for the families say all four insurance companies will participate. They’ll also be paying significantly more; this settlement amount is $73 million dollars.
The suit argued that Remington negligently sold civilians a rifle (a Bushmaster AR-15) “substantially similar” to the M16 service rifle used by many armed forces worldwide.
The suit also argued that the company’s advertising and placement in violent video games essentially “glorified” violence using the rifle. Assertions the families said put Remington in violation of the state’s consumer protection law which prohibits advertising and marketing that is “immoral and unscrupulous."
In rebuttal, Remington argued there was no evidence to establish that marketing had anything to do with the shooting. The company also argued that the legal theories behind the suit were flawed- barred by both Connecticut statutes and the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Firearms Act.
The PLCA protects manufacturers, distributors and dealers from potential liability, provided the gun in question was functioning correctly and sold according to all federal, state and local regulations. While the action of the mentally disturbed shooter was heinous, Remington essentially argued there was doubt that the rifle performed exactly as designed.
The Connecticut Supreme Court, however, disagreed, ruling that the company could be sued under state law over how their AR-rifles were marketed.
Remington appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court declined to hear the case.
A simple question has been bouncing around the industry today: so what does this really mean to the gun industry?
At this point, most industry leaders are mum regarding any “forward-lookinesult of the decision. But the off-the-record responses have ranged from “too-early to tell” to “it’s the damn insurance companies’ money. Brutal precedent.” Another reminded me that the “tactical bro” ads have already shown significant reductions, with hunting and home defense messages taking center stage in a majority of today’s advertising. That, I’m told, is a result of companies having already “factored” the potential liability should the Soto v. Remington case go sideways.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, however, released the only comprehensive statement as of our deadlines last evening. Here it is in its entirety:
“The decision to settle in the Soto v. Bushmaster case was not made by a member of the firearms industry. The settlement was reached between the plaintiffs and the various insurance carriers that held policies with Remington Outdoor Company (ROC), which effectively no longer exists.
As part of bankruptcy court proceedings, the assets of ROC were sold at auction in September of 2020. Remington Outdoor Company, which owned the Bushmaster brand, effectively ceased to exist as a going concern. The lawsuit, however, continued against the estate of the Remington Outdoor Company, essentially ROC’s insurers and their insurance policies in effect at the time.
The settlement also does not alter the fundamental facts of the case. The plaintiffs never produced any evidence that Bushmaster advertising had any bearing or influence over Nancy Lanza’s decision to legally purchase a Bushmaster rifle, nor on the decision of murderer Adam Lanza to steal that rifle, kill his mother in her sleep, and go on to commit the rest of his horrendous crimes. We renew our sincere sympathy for the victims of this unspeakable tragedy and all victims of violence committed through the misusing of any firearm. But the fact remains that modern sporting rifles are the most popular rifle in America with over 20 million sold to law abiding Americans and rifles, of any kind, are exceedingly rarely used in crime.
The Connecticut Supreme Court wrote in its Soto v. Bushmaster (4-3) opinion, “[T]the plaintiffs allege that the defendants’ wrongful advertising magnified the lethality of the Sandy Hook massacre by inspiring Lanza or causing him to select a more efficiently deadly weapon for his attack. Proving such a causal link at trial may prove to be a Herculean task.” NSSF believes the Court incorrectly allowed this one claim to go forward to discover. We remain confident ROC would have prevailed if this case had it proceeded to trial.
Finally, this settlement orchestrated by insurance companies has no impact on the strength and efficacy of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which remains the law of the land. PLCAA will continue to block baseless lawsuits that attempt to blame lawful industry companies for the criminal acts of third parties.
And as always, we’ll keep you posted.
— Jim Shepherd