Remington's $73m settlement could kickstart trouble for other gun manufacturers

The settlement could pave way for hundreds of similar lawsuits, as courts and legislators debate accountability in a sign of changing times


                            Remington's $73m settlement could kickstart trouble for other gun manufacturers
The exterior of the Sandy Hook Elementary School following the December 14, 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. (Connecticut State Police/Getty Images)
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On February 15, 2022, Remington Arms agreed to settle with the families of the Sandy Hook shooting for $73 million, in a historic decision. It is the first time in history a gun manufacturer has been held liable for gun violence after Adam Lanza used the company's Bushmaster AR-15 in his 2012 shooting attack. While many across the nation are celebrating the verdict, it has also sparked some fear for pro-gun activists. 

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The decision marks an end to the dramatic and controversial case that has been playing out for years now. The settlement is also significantly larger than the company's previous offer of $33 million, which was declined by the families in July 2021. With the victory, families will now set their sights firmly on Alex Jones, who is set to go to trial for defamation claims over the shooting sometime in 2022. 

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For now, it's not the $73 million Remington has to worry about. With the settlement, a judge ruled that the families can make public all the internal company documents "that prove Remington’s wrongdoing." Not only could it cause a major scandal for the firm, but it could also inspire others to challenge gun companies in court.

Dozens of people attend a vigil remembering the 58 people killed in Las Vegas and calling for action against guns on October 4, 2017, in Newtown, Connecticut. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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Will Remington suit be a template?

There are now mounting concerns that other gun manufacturers could face similar consequences if victims decide to take them to court. In fact, such a movement is already well underway. In May 2020, Fred Guttenberg, the father of Jaime, who was killed in the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting joined a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. As with the Remington case, the complaint to the FTC accused Smith and Wesson of "deceptive and unfair" marketing of their rifles.

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"I am truly thankful that the Sandy Hook families are going to finally get some justice and accountability. This is the reason that I have pursued my legal action against Smith and Wesson. I look forward to my day of accountability with them," Guttenberg tweeted after the verdict on the Remington case.


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There's also some movement in courts to shed gun companies from the protections under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) of 2005. Under the act, manufacturers are not responsible for crimes committed with their products. However, not everyone agrees with that. In September 2020, a Pennsylvania appeals court ruled that the law is unconstitutional, as it violates the 10th Amendment. The ruling allowed the Gustafson family to proceed with their case against Springfield Armory, which is being reconsidered by the PA Superior Court

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Lawmakers eager for a change

Legislation is also catching up to gun makers. In July 2021, New York became the first state to allow people to sue manufacturers, importers, or marketers for "public nuisance", which could be any act that harms the public including mass shootings. In January 2022, California assembly member Phil Ting unveiled a similar bill in the state. The idea has been backed by President Joe Biden as well. "If I get one thing on my list — (if) the Lord came down and said, 'Joe, you get one of these' — give me that one," he said about the matter in April 2021.

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Protestors shout as they march down Sixth Avenue during the March For Our Lives, March 24, 2018, in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

 

However, this route isn't an easy one to go down. In December 2021, a group of manufacturers and retailers challenged the legality of New York's law in federal court. It's also won little support in Washington DC, even among far-left candidates who have often called for extreme measures to curb gun violence. Meanwhile, some states are also running in the exact opposite direction. In 2021, Wisconsin lawmakers introduced a bill that would make it harder to sue gun companies. 

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On social media too, Remington Arms' settlement has been met with backlash. "I empathize with the victims families, but the ruling against Remington Arms v Sandy Hook Families sets a dangerous precedent. So now when a vehicle is used to commit mass murder such as in Waukesha, WI the vehicle manufacturer will be held liable!? This is so wrong. Appeal!!" one person tweeted. Another said, "This makes NO SENSE whatsoever! @RemingtonArms had NOTHING, and I mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the horrific #Sandyhook massacre. This ONLY sets a WRONG PRECIDANCE for the Government to go after ALL gun manufacturers in the future!" A third said, "#SupportRemington They did nothing wrong. This is not how things work. @RemingtonArms."

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It's clear that there's no right answer when it comes to handling America's gun crisis, but as Republicans have shown, putting the onus on the public can perhaps help further the cause. It's certainly the belief behind the Remington suit. "Our hope is that this victory will be the first boulder in the avalanche that forces that change," noted Josh Koskoff, the lead attorney for the families in a statement. 

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