Connecticut Supreme Court justices focused on the issues of negligent entrustment and marketing efforts for the AR-15 rifle as they peppered the attorneys for Remington and 10 of the families affected by the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.
As the two attorneys made their oral arguments Tuesday, the five justices who sat in on the session weighed in on whether the AR-15 was meant to be used as a military weapon, the importance of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, and whether the weapon was marketed to a younger demographic. The court agreed to hear the case en banc and, even though only five justices were present, all seven will hear the recorded proceedings and rule on the case.
Justice Richard Palmer focused on the popularity and dangers of the AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle used by Adam Lanza to kill 20 elementary students and six educators.
Palmer, who repeatedly engaged Remington attorney James Vogts, asked whether the rifle was a killing machine, as the families claim.
Vogts countered that most people used the rifle for legal purposes.
“This kind of rifle is owned by millions of Americans around the country for hunting and home protection,” said Vogts, a partner with Swanson, Martin & Bell in Chicago.
In her October 2016 decision dismissing the underlying case by the families, Fairfield District Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis wrote that PLCAA and negligent entrustment broadly prohibit lawsuits against gunmakers, distributors, dealers, and importers from harm caused by the criminal misuse of their firearm.
Palmer also asked if the AR-15 was designed as a military weapon. The families’ attorney, Josh Koskoff, argues that only the military and police should have access to the rifle, which is the civilian version of the military’s M-16.
“All weapons made today have their origins in the military,” Vogts responded.
Appellate Judge Raheem Mullins, who was sitting in on the Supreme Court case, asked Koskoff if he thought Remington was “targeting [the rifle] to the civilian population.”
Koskoff said Remington is marketing the weapon to a younger demographic through video games.
Koskoff took issue with Vogts’ claims that the weapon was marketed to hunters and for home protection. “If, as Remington maintains, it was a hunting rifle or to be used for protection, why advertise it as a combat-oriented mission weapon and why advertise it in first-person shooting
games,” said Koskoff, a partner with Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder in Bridgeport.
Vogts, who spoke after Koskoff, relayed to the justices his main argument: That gunmakers should not be responsible for the evil acts of one individual.
Palmer pressed both attorneys on negligent entrustment. Speaking to Koskoff, the justice asked if it mattered how many steps removed entrustment was as long as it’s traceable to the gunmaker. Negligent entrustment occurs when one party provides a product to another party while knowing the receiving party is likely to injure someone.
Koskoff responded that “negligent entrustment had occurred between Remington and Adam Lanza. Remington may never have known Adam Lanza, but they were courting him for years.”
Vogts countered it was Nancy Lanza who purchased the weapon and passed all background checks.
Vogts added Koskoff misrepresented the true meaning of negligent entrustment and that “he is asking us to adapt negligent entrustment to modern-day circumstances.”
Vogts argued Koskoff was trying to circumvent legislative intent by finding a way to apply negligent entrustment despite the protections offered to the gun industry in the plain language of the federal law.