Relatives of nine of the twenty-six victims of the Sandy Hook Massacre in Newtown, Connecticut sued Bushmaster Firearms, arguing that the rifle maker should be held liable for the mass shooting because it marketed a military-style weapons to civilians. Now, more than fourteen months after the incident, the case has hit the pivotal point of defending against a motion to dismiss – the hearing of which to be held on February 22. The plaintiffs’ theory has not previously been tested under the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which provides immunity to firearm manufacturers and retailers from liability for injuries arising out of criminal misuse of a firearm.
The Trace quoted Professor Timothy Lytton on the matter in its February 16 article, “Should Assault Rifles Marketing Be Held Responsible for Assault Rifle Massacres?” Lytton explained that the law was intended to prohibit “innovative legal attacks” against the firearms business, “while preserving more traditional liability claims.” “One of those traditional theories that received protection under the statute…is called negligent entrustment,” a version of which is being tested in the Sandy Hook case. If the case survives the motion to dismiss this month, then it moves on to the discovery phase. Lytton noted that discovery in past cases has revealed “industry ideas and attitudes towards distribution and gun tracing” and, as a result, provided insight as to “what abuses look like in a specific instance,” helping to lay the groundwork for future gun tort cases.
Timothy D. Lytton is a Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law and a member of the Center for Law, Health & Society. His expertise is in the public policy implications of tort litigation. Lytton is the editor of Suing the Gun Industry: A Battle at the Crossroads of Gun Control and Mass Torts (2005).