Two years after the massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school that left 20 children and six adults dead as well as one teacher wounded, many of the victims’ families are seeking justice from the companies that manufactured, distributed and sold the rifle used in the shooting, according to CBS. In the lawsuit, one surviving teacher and nine families of the Newtown children and teachers who died at Sand Hook Elementary School, claim that the assault rifle lone gunman, Adam Lanza, used a military weapon that was not appropriate for sale to the general public and are thereby suing the gun maker.
The lawsuit for negligence and wrongful death was filed with the Bridgeport Superior Court. The is against three parties: Riverview Gun Sales where the rifle was purchased, Camfour which is the firearm’s distributor and Bushmaster which is the rifle’s manufacturer, reports NBC. Bill Sherlach, whose wife died in the shooting, said that the companies need to be held responsible for marketing and selling the weapons to untrained citizens. Sherlach says there needs to be “standard business practices” for the gun industry, which must assume the risk its products present to the general population.
The Newtown suit claims that the military-grade rifle is not suited for hunting or home defense, and therefore not suited for civilian use. In a release, attorney Josh Koskoff said the AR-15 was engineered for the U.S. military and designed with specifications to penetrate a steel helmet. The semiautomatic rifle is capable of firing single bullets as rapidly as the trigger can be pulled, unlike fully automatic rifles such as the M-16, which are capable of firing a continuous stream of bullets.
The New York Times says demand for AR-15-style rifles skyrocketed following the Newtown massacre, calling the rifle “America’s most wanted gun.” It is unclear exactly what spurred the demand, though aggressive and effective marketing campaigns, government attempts at stricter regulations for military assault rifles and the gun’s sudden media attention are all likely factors. In 1994, congress passed a federal ban on the public sale of military assault rifles, which expired in 2004. The ban was never reinstated due in large part to questions surrounding its effectiveness. The regulation, reports The New York Times, was easily evaded and rife with loopholes, and did little to stop civilians from acquiring military-style rifles.
The regulation also inspired firearms manufacturers to tweak specifications and begin heavily marketing more AR-15-style rifles, touting their military connection as one of their strongest selling points. Only 18 firearms were made illegal to sell during the ban, and firearms manufactured before the ban was implemented were exempt, leaving space for gun makers like Bushmaster to exploit the niche market the ban effectively created by altering the guns’ specifications. The moratorium also limited the sale of high-capacity magazines, reducing the legal bullet count to 10 per magazine, but again, any magazines manufactured before the ban were exempt from such restrictions. At the time, there were over 24 million high-capacity magazines and about 1.5 million assault rifles in circulation in the U.S., according to The Washington Post.
A 2013 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing a mere month after the Newtown shooting pitted political parties against one another in an effort to stem rampant gun violence. The two major questions addressed at the hearing were whether easy access to firearms promotes or deters violence and whether more regulation is needed to restrict individual gun ownership or if better enforcement of existing regulation is the key to stemming gun violence. Neither question was answered in any official capacity as a result of that hearing, leading families like those in Newtown to take matters into their own hands.
By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa