[ED: When the settlement was announced in the lawsuit brought by nine Sandy Hook families against Remington, some blamed “Remington” for deciding to settle the suit. To be clear, the Remington named in the suit no longer really exists. The former Remington Outdoor declared bankruptcy and was liquidated. The suit was settled by the insurers representing what remains of the defunct entity. The two current Remingtons — the ammunition company and the separate firearm maker — had no part in the Sandy Hook lawsuit or the decision to settle it.]
The Sandy Hook families’ strategy was to make use of a tiny gap in the language of the P.L.C.A.A., which leaves room for cases in which a gun manufacturer “knowingly violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product.” The law that the families pointed to was the decades-old Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, or cutpa.
This move set off a chain of litigation about whether the trial could even proceed: the Remington side argued that claims under cutpa were exactly what the P.L.C.A.A. was meant to preclude, while the families argued the opposite. After the Connecticut Supreme Court decided in the families’ favor, the question was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, in what at that point had become the case of Remington Arms Co. v. Donna L. Soto. (Donna Soto is the mother of Victoria Soto, a twenty-seven-year-old teacher who was killed while trying to protect her students from the shooter.)
On November 12, 2019—in many ways, the crucial date in the case—the Court declined to hear the company’s petition, and this meant that the trial could proceed.
The Court did not issue an opinion in Remington v. Soto, or resolve substantive questions about the limits of the P.L.C.A.A. There is a separate case, known as Gustafson v. Springfield, which is working its way through the courts in Pennsylvania and directly challenges the constitutionality of the P.L.C.A.A. (That case was brought against the firearm manufacturer Springfield Armory by the parents of a thirteen-year-old boy who was killed when a fourteen-year-old friend pulled the trigger on what he thought was an unloaded semi-automatic handgun.) But the Court’s decision, and the prospect of a trial, substantially raised the potential costs for the company.
The hope of the Sandy Hook families is that it will put fear into the hearts of all gunmakers. And maybe, with any luck, it will.
This settlement was, no doubt, an accomplishment on the part of the families and the lawyers who stood with them. It’s a tribute to the family members whom the plaintiffs lost. But joy may be hard to come by in this fight. The country has never been on a straight road forward in the effort to reduce gun violence.
In just the two years since the Court declined to hear Remington v. Soto, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, and Amy Coney Barrett replaced her. This spring, a conservative supermajority is expected to issue a ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, a challenge to that state’s laws for obtaining a license to carry a concealed handgun. That decision is not likely to mean real justice for the children of Sandy Hook, either.
— Amy Davidson Sorkin in The Sandy Hook Settlement with Remington and the Road Ahead on Gun Violence