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Holding Gun Manufacturers Responsible for Buyers’ Rampages Remains an Uphill Battle

Just two days after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, a judge in Connecticut issued an order denying a motion to dismiss filed by the manufacturer of the AR-15 semiautomatic machine gun used by the Sandy Hook Elementary School murderer. Though the manufacturers and models differ, the Sig Sauer MCX used in Orlando is of similar aesthetics and lethality as the AR-15.

This ruling does not mean the Sandy Hook plaintiffs will prevail, however. Nor, unfortunately, does it afford much hope for potential Orlando plaintiffs hoping to hold Sig Sauer accountable.

The Sandy Hook plaintiffs are seeking to hold, among other defendants, Bushmaster, manufacturer of the AR-15 used in the Sandy Hook tragedy, liable for, among other things, the wrongful deaths of those slain at the elementary school. Among its 33 counts, the complaint alleges that the sale of the AR-15 to a civilian market posed an unreasonable risk of physical injury to others, as a mass casualty event was within the scope of the risk created by the defendant’s marketing and sales; that the AR-15’s ability to fire rounds quickly created an unreasonable risk that it would inflict great casualties before police intervention; and that the defendant “unethically, oppressively, immorally, and unscrupulously marketed and promoted the assaultive qualities and military uses of AR-15s to civilian purchasers…with the expectation and intent that possession and control of these weapons would be shared with and/or transferred to unscreened civilian users following purchase.” The defense countered that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”) affords gun manufacturers broad immunity for the shooting deaths administered by eventual purchasers of its firearms.

While the judge denied the motion to dismiss, he did so on procedural grounds. The defense essentially stated that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because the PLCAA prevented the gun manufacturers from even being brought into court. The court found, however, that the PLCAA is more properly considered a defense to allegations, rather than a bar to bringing suit altogether. Thus, while the suit is viable to date, the plaintiffs will still have to survive the Connecticut court equivalent of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In other words, the defense will argue that even if every single claim leveled by Plaintiff is true, the manufacturers still can’t be held liable because they are shielded by the PLCAA. This is where the real battle will take place.

We’ll keep you posted as updates arise.


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