New York (AFP) – Families of nine victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting have reached a $73 million settlement with US gunmaker Remington, in a landmark deal for a country traumatized by campus massacres.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the settlement marks the first time a gun maker has been held liable for a mass shooting in the United States.
Twenty-six children and teachers were shot dead in 2012 at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut by Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old with known developmental disabilities.
The killings — the second-deadliest school massacre in US history — stunned Americans, with many thinking they would mark a watershed moment that would lead lawmakers to tighten gun control.
A “settlement agreement has been executed between the parties,” a notice from lawyers for the families said Tuesday.
Calling the move “historic,” US President Joe Biden said it begins “the necessary work of holding gun manufacturers accountable.”
Manufacturers and dealers must either change their business models or “bear the financial cost of their complicity,” he said in a statement.
Lanza’s mother, a gun enthusiast, had bought him an AR-15-style Bushmaster XM15-E2S semi-automatic rifle more than two years before the shooting.
Lanza murdered his mother before attacking the school, and killed himself afterward.
The lawsuit alleged that Remington and the other two defendants are culpable because they knowingly marketed a military grade weapon that is “grossly unsuited” for civilian use yet had become the gun most used in mass shootings.
An AR-15 was also used to kill 58 people at a mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, and 17 at a school in Parkland, Florida in 2018.
Remington, the oldest gunmaker in the United States and which has since filed for bankruptcy, had denied the allegations.
The plaintiffs alleged that the gun was marketed immorally and unscrupulously and sold on its war-fighting capabilities to civilians.
Marketing, they charged, popularized the AR-15 in combat and mass shooting-type situations through the type of violent video games that Lanza was known to play.
They specifically cited Remington’s marketing of high-capacity magazines, which have only combat utility, for use with the gun.
The gun “was used not by a highly trained soldier but by a deeply troubled kid, not on a battlefield abroad but in an elementary school at home, and not to preserve freedom, but to eviscerate them,” Joshua Koskoff, a lawyer for the Sandy Hook families, told a press conference Tuesday.
Christopher Boehning, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, told AFP the settlement “sends a strong warning signal to other gun manufacturers regarding their role in these unthinkable tragedies.”
AFP has sought comment from Remington.
Popular in mass shootings
The United States leads the world in mass shootings by civilians, with many schools undergoing live shooter drills as a matter of routine.
But the grief and trauma of Lanza’s rampage was underscored by the youth of his victims. He killed 20 six- and seven-year-olds along with six staff members.
Nearly four years later, the shooting was still so visceral that it moved then-president Barack Obama to tears during a speech on gun control.
Hopes that revulsion ignited by the massacre would finally prompt Congress to follow through on wildly popular demands for greater restrictions on weapons, however, fell flat.
Instead, the powerful gun lobby has repeatedly stamped out any efforts to further change the famed Second Amendment to the country’s constitution, which allows for the right to bear arms.
But the settlement deal between the Sandy Hook families and Remington could help pave the way for further accountability in such massacres.
The US Congress passed a law in 2005 that explicitly immunized gunmakers when their products are used in crimes.
But the Connecticut Supreme Court said that Remington could still be sued on the grounds that its marketing violated Connecticut’s unfair trade practice laws.
“The gun manufacturers knew that they were advertising a dangerous product and they exploited these dangers,” Matthew Soto, brother of first grade teacher Vicki Soto, who was among the victims, said at Tuesday’s press conference.
Nicole Hockley, the mother of victim Dylan, six, told the press conference that her family had moved from Britain “because of our belief in the American dream.”
But that “turned into the American nightmare, where for too many the right to bear arms is a higher priority than the right to life.”