Sandy Hook fam­i­lies make case

Supreme Court hears ar­gu­ments for suit against gun­maker

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rob Ryser

HART­FORD — State Supreme Court jus­tices heard fi­nal ar­gu­ments from both sides Tues­day about whether the na­tion’s old­est gun­maker should be held li­able for its mar­ket­ing of the gun used in the Sandy Hook mas­sacre.

The jus­tices also asked their own ques­tions, hint­ing to a packed court­room what con­sid­er­a­tions might play a de­cid­ing fac­tor in their even­tual rul­ing.

The court must de­cide whether Rem­ing­ton “neg­li­gently en­trusted” to civil­ians the AR-15style ri­fle used by the shooter, as is claimed in a suit filed by 10 fam­i­lies of Sandy Hook vic­tims, or whether the com­pany is pro­tected by a fed­eral law that shields the in­dus­try from most claims when firearms are mis­used.

“Are you are ask­ing us to look at the no­tion of neg­li­gent en­trust­ment more broadly?” Jus­tice Richard Palmer asked the fam­i­lies’ lead at­tor­ney dur­ing the late-morn­ing hear­ing. “Are you are say­ing it doesn’t mat­ter how many steps re­moved the neg­li­gence is, as long as it is trace­able?”

“Neg­li­gent en­trust­ment def­i­nitely oc­curred be­tween Rem­ing­ton and Adam Lanza,” fam­ily at­tor­ney Josh Koskoff replied, re­fer­ring to the 20-year-old shooter.

The ex­change refers to a key

part of the fam­i­lies’ claim, and a key theme in the gun­maker’s de­fense, led by Stam­ford’s Jonathan Whit­comb.

The fam­i­lies claim that Rem­ing­ton was reck­lessly “ring­ing the bells of a com­bat weapon” in its mar­ket­ing of AR-15-style ri­fles to ap­peal to young shoot­ers.

Rem­ing­ton coun­ters that it made a le­gal gun that was dis­trib­uted legally and sold legally to Lanza’s mother two years be­fore the mas­sacre. The com­pany ar­gues that it could not have known that in 2012 Lanza would kill his mother, take that ri­fle from an un­locked closet, shoot his way into a locked Sandy Hook School and com­mit the worst crime in Connecticut his­tory.

Whit­comb stood Tues­day to ar­gue that the fam­i­lies were try­ing to change the law, be­cause there is no con­nec­tion be­tween reck­less mar­ket­ing and the tra­di­tional le­gal un­der­stand­ing of neg­li­gent en­trust­ment. A jus­tice ques­tioned that. “But would you ac­knowl­edge that the law needs to adapt as time goes on?” Jus­tice Ra­heem Mullins asked Whit­comb. “Mr. Koskoff is ask­ing us to adapt to new cir­cum­stances that are a lot dif­fer­ent than they used to be.”

“The law can adapt, but the con­cept of neg­li­gent en­trust­ment shouldn’t be ig­nored the way it has been un­der­stood for 100 years,” Whit­comb said.

A lower court judge agreed with Whit­comb in dis­miss­ing the fam­i­lies’ law­suit in 2016. Su­pe­rior Court Judge Bar­bara Bel­lis ruled that while the gun in­dus­try may be li­able in cases of neg­li­gent en­trust­ment, the fam­i­lies had not made a de­ci­sive case for it.

The Supreme Court is de­cid­ing whether to re­turn the fam­i­lies’ wrong­ful death law­suit to Su­pe­rior Court, where it was sched­uled for trial in 2018, or to up­hold the lower court rul­ing.

Tues­day’s court­room was crowded with 50 spec­ta­tors, in­clud­ing Ni­cole Hock­ley and Mark Bar­den, who each lost chil­dren in the 2012 Sandy Hook mas­sacre.

Af­ter the 90-minute hear­ing, fam­i­lies gath­ered out­side the court­house in front of a crowd of me­dia crews to give a state­ment.

“In the mil­i­tary, a weapon of this type is quite rightly sub­ject to strict rules around its use and stor­age,” said Ian Hock­ley, whose son was slain at Sandy Hook. “The man­u­fac­turer of the (ri­fle) takes no such pre­cau­tions when un­leash­ing their prod­ucts onto the civil­ian mar­ket.

“We have not lost one ounce of con­fi­dence in the just­ness of our case,” he said.

The fam­i­lies’ at­tor­ney agreed.

“We are very pleased to know that the high­est court and the ul­ti­mate ar­biter of this case is tak­ing it with the de­gree of se­ri­ous­ness that we would have ex­pected ... and that the case de­serves,” Koskoff said.

It was not clear Tues­day when the Supreme Court would make a de­ci­sion.

Cloe Pois­son / The Courant via AP Pool

Ian Hock­ley, whose sone was killed at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School in 2012, ad­dresses the me­dia af­ter a hear­ing be­fore the state Supreme Court in Hart­ford Tues­day.

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