“More than 14 months after victims’ families sued Bushmaster Firearms in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the lawsuit is finally approaching the first critical test of a novel liability claim,” thetrace.org reports. “Whether or not the riflemaker can be held responsible for the Sandy Hook massacre because of how it has marketed a military-style weapon to civilians.” Specifically, militarily . . .
. . . the Newtown plaintiffs seek to use the industry’s marketing tactics against it.
Those tactics, never tested before under PLCAA [Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act], dominate the allegations spelled out in the plaintiffs’ complaint. It quotes several advertisements from a catalog aimed at civilian gun buyers that is adorned with action photos of camouflage-clad soldiers and police in body armor. One reads, “Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered.” Other images tout the rifle’s “military-proven performance” and call it “the ultimate combat weapons system.”
With that type of marketing, the Sandy Hook families claim, “The Bushmaster Defendants attract buyers by extolling the militaristic and assaultive qualities of their AR-15 rifles.” The complaint alleges that while the weapon is suitable for the military and for law enforcement — where it’s used for combat and limited police purposes — in civilian hands, the high-caliber, rapid-fire rifles are essentially killing machines.
Sounds like a stretch to me. The PLCAA shields gunmakers from liability when someone uses one of their firearms unlawfully. Period. Which is why the litigants are coming at this one sideways.
[The lawsuit] cites the marketing as a violation of Connecticut’s unfair trade practices act, which regulates irresponsible advertising. The advertising is deceptive and a violation of that state law, the plaintiffs argue, because it uses military imagery to entice the wrong sorts of consumers — civilians — to buy the product and then harm others with it.
If that’s their argument — Bushmaster’s advertising attracts customers to buy their rifles, which they shouldn’t do because they’re “killing machines” — that ain’t gonna fly. Bushmaster’s products are legal. The purchases are legal. Deal.
If the lawsuit claimed the marketing attracts psycho killers, well, that wouldn’t fly either. Lest we forget, Mrs. Lanza bought the rifle used at Sandy Hook (son Adam shot her in the head and assumed possession).
As far as the ads being deceptive, the accusers would have to prove that the Bushmaster ACR doesn’t make the opposition bow down. I don’t think they want to go there.
We’ll know what the court thinks in four days, when a Connecticut judge rules on Bushmaster’s motion to dismiss. While I expect that the judge will grant Remington Outdoors’ motion, this case could have a chilling effect on the mucho macho military style advertising used by some rifle makers to sell their products.
Or not. Watch this space.