Gun control groups are cheering today after the Supreme Court denied an appeal by the gun maker Remington seeking to block a lawsuit over its advertising practices brought by parents of students killed in the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. The justices released the decision without comment, rejecting the argument by Remington’s attorneys that the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act prevented these types of suits. A state court in Connecticut agreed with the gunmaker, but the state’s Supreme Court ruled that despite the PLCAA, gun companies could be sued under state law for their marketing practices. Today’s decision by SCOTUS means the lawsuit will continue.
The case tests the reach of a 2005 law passed by Congress to protect firearms manufacturers from being held liable for crimes committed by gun purchasers. That law was hailed by the National Rifle Association, but it included exceptions, including one for violating rules related to marketing and advertising.
Gun control advocates have said a victory by the families in the long-running dispute could lead to more lawsuits and damaging disclosures involving the firearms industry.
The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in March that Remington can be sued because of the way the AR-15-style Bushmaster rifle was marketed. The families’ lawsuit contends that Remington glorified the gun in advertising aimed at young people, including in violent video games.
Just because the Supreme Court has allowed the case to continue doesn’t mean that the plaintiffs are assured of a victory. For gun control advocates, however, today’s decision is a big win because it opens the door to similar lawsuits against other firearms manufacturers. This is the big reason why the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was passed in the first place. Gun control groups had partnered with cities around the country in the 1990s and were trying to inflict a “death by a thousand cuts” legal strategy of bankrupting the firearms industry with these junk lawsuits. As Second Amendment attorney and scholar Dave Kopel put it in 2003: