Sandy Hook families settle with gun-maker in historic first

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Remington Arms agreed Tuesday to settle liability claims from the families of five adults and four children killed in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, according to a new court filing, marking the first time a gun manufacturer has been held accountable for a mass shooting in the U.S.

Remington agreed to pay the families $73 million.

The settlement comes over seven years after the families sued the maker of the Bushmaster XM15-E2S semiautomatic rifle that was used in the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Nicole Hockley, whose son, Dylan, was killed in the shooting, said in a statement, “My beautiful butterfly, Dylan, is gone because Remington prioritized its profit over my son’s safety. Marketing weapons of war directly to young people known to have a strong fascination with firearms is reckless and, as too many families know, deadly conduct. Using marketing to convey that a person is more powerful or more masculine by using a particular type or brand of firearm is deeply irresponsible.”

“My hope is that by facing and finally being penalized for the impact of their work, gun companies, along with the insurance and banking industries that enable them, will be forced to make their business practices safer than they have ever been,” Hockley said.

On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School, and in the course of 264 seconds, fatally shot 20 first graders and six staff members.

The rifle Lanza used was Remington’s version of the AR-15 assault rifle, which is substantially similar to the standard issue M16 military service rifle used by the U.S. Army and other nations’ armed forces, but fires only in semiautomatic mode.

The families argued Remington negligently entrusted to civilian consumers an assault-style rifle that is suitable for use only by military and law enforcement personnel and violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act through the sale or wrongful marketing of the rifle.

Remington, which filed for bankruptcy protection in July 2020, had argued all of the plaintiffs’ legal theories were barred under Connecticut law and by a federal statute — the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act — which, with limited exceptions, immunizes firearms manufacturers, distributors and dealers from civil liability for crimes committed by third parties using their weapons.

Francine Wheeler, mother of 6-year-old victim Benjamin Wheeler, said at Tuesday’s news conference, “Today is about how and why he died. Today is about what is right and what is wrong. Today is about the last five minutes of his life. Which were tragic, traumatic and the worst thing that can happen to a child.”

“Our legal system has given us some justice today but … David [Ben’s father] and I will never have true justice,” she said. “True justice would be our 15-year-old healthy and standing next to us right now. But Ben will never be 15. He will be 6 forever.”

David Wheeler added, “We want to make sure that another father and another mother don’t have to stand here someday.”

Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, whose son, Noah, was killed at Sandy Hook, said in a statement, “Our loss is irreversible, and in that sense this outcome is neither redemptive nor restorative. One moment we had this dazzling, energetic 6-year-old little boy, and the next all we had left were echoes of the past, photographs of a lost boy who will never grow older, calendars marking a horrifying new anniversary, a lonely grave, and pieces of Noah’s life stored in a backpack and boxes.”

“Every day is a realization that he should be there, and he is not. What is lost remains lost,” they said. “However, the resolution does provide a measure of accountability in an industry that has thus far operated with impunity. For this, we are grateful.”

President Joe Biden called the Sandy Hook settlement “historic” in a statement and noted that “while this settlement does not erase the pain of that tragic day, it does begin the necessary work of holding gun manufacturers accountable.”

He praised “the perseverance of nine families who turned tragedy into purpose,” who he said showed state and city consumer protection laws can hold gun manufacturers and dealers accountable even as they’re shielded at the federal level.