Christian Nolan, The Connecticut Law Tribune
June 20, 2016
A lawyer for Remington Arms asked a Connecticut judge today to dismiss a lawsuit against the gunmaker filed by the families of children and faculty killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
The Madison, North Carolina, company made the Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that Adam Lanza used to kill 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown in December 2012.
Remington's team of lawyers, led by James Vogts of Chicago's Swanson, Martin & Bell, filed motions to strike the counts of the complaint. The oral argument was held before Judge Barbara Bellis in Bridgeport Superior Court.
A key argument for Remington Arms was that the weapon was legal in Connecticut at the time of the Sandy Hook shooting. The weapon has since been banned by Connecticut lawmakers.
Lawyers for the victims' families, led by Joshua Koskoff, of Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder in Bridgeport, argued that just because it was legal did not mean it was safe. He said the AR-15 were designed for military use yet "there it was on the floor of a first-grade classroom."
"It's just no longer reasonable to entrust them into a civilian environment," said Koskoff. "All assault weapon rifles do is put us all at risk. They destroy communities and lives."
Following Koskoff's point, Bellis noted that the physical harms of cigarettes were initially unknown despite the products being readily available.
"I don't think anyone can argue that [cigarettes] are safe," said Bellis. "Why doesn't that same concept apply with respect to the AR-15?"
Vogts acknowledged that "norms do change with time" but reiterated that in 2010, when Nancy Lanza purchased the gun and at the time of the Sandy Hook shooting, it was still legal to buy and possess such a firearm.
"It fuels the point that these are legislative decisions. They're best equipped to deal with these policy judgments," said Vogts. "A personal injury case before a jury is not the place where new policy should emerge."
Vogts said courts around the country first deciding this issue rather than Congress would result in "piecemeal legislation by jury verdict."
"There is a serious separation of powers at play here," Vogts concluded.
In April, Bellis denied similar motions to dismiss the case by Remington; firearm distributor Camfour, based in Westfield, Massachusetts; and Riverview Gun Sales, the now-shuttered East Windsor store where Nancy Lanza bought the gun that her son used in the Sandy Hook shooting.
Bellis, who set an April 3, 2018, trial date, did not rule from the bench on the latest motions by the defendants. Bellis now has 120 days to issue her written ruling on the motions.
Vogts also indicated to the judge that he soon intends to file a motion for a protective order on discovery to keep all the pretrial materials related to the case sealed rather than available to the public.