Terry H. Schwadron
March 16, 2019
It felt strange — or perhaps not — that news arrive of the horrible shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand around the same time that in Connecticut, surviving parents of Sandy Hook’s shootings had won a court fight to sue Remington, makers of some of the weapons involved.
Eerieness aside, there are enough mass killings around the world to provide coincidence; once again, the main thrust of the American political leadership is to send good thoughts. By contrast, it took one day for New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Arden to vow to banish legalized semi-automated weapons.
By clearing the way for a lawsuit against the companies that manufactured and sold the semiautomatic rifle used by the gunman in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Connecticut Supreme Court allowed a direct challenge to the immunity that Congress has granted gun companies to shield them from litigation when their weapons are used in a crime.
The New York Times reported that the decision allows the case, brought by victims’ families, to maneuver around the federal shield, creating a potential opening to bring claims to trial and hold the companies, including Remington, which made the rifle, liable for the attack.
Clearly, it also outlines a path for other families of other mass shootings, and will allow the grieving families access to the marketing and internal selling documents of the arms companies.
In the 4–3 ruling, the justices agreed with a lower court judge’s decision to dismiss most of the claims raised by the families, but also found that the sweeping federal protections did not prevent the families from bringing a lawsuit based on wrongful marketing claims. The court ruled that the case can move ahead based on a state law regarding unfair trade practices.
In the majority opinion, the justices wrote that “it falls to a jury to decide whether the promotional schemes alleged in the present case rise to the level of illegal trade practices and whether fault for the tragedy can be laid at their feet.”
The families faced long odds as they pursued a novel strategy to find a route around the federal protections and will confront major hurdles as the case proceeds. Their hope was to bring the case to trial, which could force gun companies to turn over internal communications that they have fiercely fought to keep private and provide a revealing and possibly damaging glimpse into how the industry operates.
It is not dissimilar to what befell the tobacco industry after public access was possible through court action to those marketing efforts.
The ruling had been delayed after Remington, one of the nation’s oldest gun makers, filed for bankruptcy last year as its sales declined and debts mounted.
In New Zealand, the government was able to say immediately that the attack by three armed men was terrorism, and also to denounce gun violence, steps that seem halting when the United States is involved and finds itself under a hate attack from white gunmen.
In the United States, President Trump’s reaction was both expected — offering U.S. support — and weird, suggesting that white supremacy involves only a tiny minority of people. Just the previous day, he was bragging to Breitbart that he has the police, the bikers, all the “toughs” in the country in his corner. What do we think is going to happen when he says these types of enabling statements?
Prime Minister Ardern vowed changes to the country’s gun laws. She said that the attacker held a gun license obtained last November and that five guns were used in the attack including two semi-automatic weapons.
Indeed, the New Zealand shootings amplified the role laid out for social media, since the gunmen decided to live stream their work. Rather than focus on the weapons, the new front seems to be looking at how social media were being used as unfiltered amplifiers of the terror that accompanied arrival of armed thugs into a worship session.
A man with the gunmen released a 74-page manifest railing against Muslims and immigrants. The 49 victims included both young children and adults.
I get that for white supremacists, it is something on which to believe, to act, to join with others; how even hate for the Other reaches a point of walking into a worship service to slay people with automated rifles is still beyond my real understanding. If there are 50 fewer Muslims, in this case, in the world, do you actually feel more secure? Where’s the link to the need for automated weapons?
It was actually the first mass shooting in 30 years in New Zealand, where they do have laws governing purchase of guns and requirements for a background check. Special permits are required for pistols, military-style semi-automatic weapons and other restricted categories.
New Zealand has had a history of taking in immigrants, clearly including a Muslim population. So, what we have now is the result of ugly talk and the uglier action against such immigration policies.
It’s a reminder that after checking — or not — on the background of who can buy an assault rifle, there is no check of people’s sanity or hate.