Families of Sandy Hook victims settle with Remington

A 2018 image of Francine Wheeler holding a photograph of her son Ben
Francine Wheeler with a photograph of her son Ben

A company that made a rifle used in one of the US’s deadliest school shootings has settled with the families of victims for $73m (£53.9m).

The settlement from Remington Arms comes in response to a lawsuit brought by the families of nine of 26 victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. The case marks the first time a gun-maker has faced liability for a mass shooting. Until now, the industry had immunity from litigation.

Each family will receive a share of the settlement, but other details of the deal were not disclosed. Josh Koskoff, a lawyer representing the families of victims, said they were delighted by the outcome because their focus was on “preventing the next Sandy Hook”.

“Our loss is irreversible, in the sense this outcome is neither redemptive nor restorative,” Lenny Pozner and Veronique De la Rosa, whose six-year-old son Noah was killed, wrote in testimony released after the settlement. “What is lost remains lost,” they added. “However, the resolution does provide a measure of accountability in an industry that has thus far operated with impunity.”

In the early 2000s, the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups pushed states and the federal government to enact laws to protect gun manufacturers from financial responsibility for deaths that result from the use of their products. Their crowning achievement was the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, passed by Congress and signed by President George W Bush in 2005.

That law has shielded many gun manufacturers from legal exposure, but it was not enough to protect Remington and its Bushmaster AR-15, used by Adam Lanza to kill 20 children and six school employees in Newtown, Connecticut.

The families of five adults and four child victims claimed Remington pitched its rifle to “at-risk” young men in violent video games and with bombastic, militaristic language. They pointed to an exception in the federal law that prohibited illegal marketing claims. Remington’s decision to pay $73 million to end the lawsuit suggests the company weighed the risk of going to trial and opened its chequebook.

This settlement may encourage state governments and gun-control advocates who want to hold manufacturers financially responsible for gun violence to press on – offering them hope that existing legal protections won’t always be an insurmountable obstacle.

One example cited by Mr Koskoff featured an image of a rifle along with the words “consider your man card reissued”. The lawsuit alleged that the campaign formed part of a larger and “aggressive” marketing effort that included product placement in video games.

“I had thought the case was about the gun, but it’s just as much about the greed,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The $73m amounts to the full amount of coverage available from Remington’s four insurers.

“This victory should serve as a wake up call, not only to the gun industry, but also the insurance and banking companies that prop it up,” he added. “For the insurance and banking industries, it’s time to recognise the financial cost of underwriting companies that elevate profit by escalating risk.”

Last July, Remington – the oldest gun-maker in the US – offered $33 million to (£24m) to the families, falling far short of the $225m they’d sought in court. They rejected the offer and said they had collected enough evidence to prove misconduct from Remington.

Remington, which was founded in 1816 and is based in North Carolina, has denied the allegations and claimed that there was no evidence that its marketing practices were related to the shooting at Sandy Hook. Despite the deaths of young children aged six and seven, no new national gun control laws were passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.

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