WATERBURY, Conn. — The parents of nine victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting nine years ago have reached a $73 million settlement of a lawsuit against Remington, the maker of the rifle used to kill 20 first-graders and six educators, according to a court filing.
Remington also agreed to allow the families to release numerous documents they obtained during the lawsuit including ones showing how it marketed the weapon, the families said Tuesday.
The families and a survivor of the shooting filed a liability claim against the gunmaker, saying the company should have never sold such dangerous weapons to the public. They said their focus was on preventing future mass shootings.
The civil court case focused on how the firearm used by the shooter – a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle – was marketed, alleging it targeted younger, at-risk males in marketing and product placement in violent video games. In one of Remington’s ads, it features the rifle against a plain backdrop and the phrase: “Consider Your Man Card Reissued.”
The plaintiffs in the case include the families of: Victoria Soto, Dylan Hockley, Mary Sherlach, Noah Pozner, Lauren Rousseau, Benjamin Wheeler, Jesse Lewis, Daniel Barden and Rachael D’Avino.
"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," Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed in the shooting, said in a statement. "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."
This is the first time a gun manufacturer has been held accountable in a mass shooting in the United States.
Remington, one of the nation’s oldest gun makers founded in 1816, filed for bankruptcy for a second time in 2020 and its assets were later sold off to several companies. The manufacturer was weighed down by lawsuits and retail sales restrictions following the school shooting.
Four insurers for the now-bankrupt company agreed to pay the full amount of coverage available, totaling $73 million, the plaintiffs said.
"It's going to cost a lot more money these days if you were a gun manufacturer," said Bill Sherlock, the husband of Sandy Hook victim, Mary Sherlock, the school psychologist. "The days of easy premiums, with no claims, is over."
“This victory should serve as a wake up call not only to the gun industry, but also the insurance and banking companies that prop it up. For the gun industry, it’s time to stop recklessly marketing all guns to all people for all uses and instead ask how marketing can lower risk rather than court it,” said Josh Koskoff, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
He said the intent of the marketing was to bolster the masculinity of the target audience, who the company referred to as “wannabes.” They used phrases like “Clear the room” and “Rescue the hostage,” he said, to convey power and masculinity.
“In five minutes, an AR-15 was used by a deeply troubled kid, not by trained military personnel, not to protect freedom, but to eviscerate it,” said Koskoff.
He said when Remington was taken over by Cerberus, a private equity firm, the focus was on increasing profits. They did so, explained Koskoff, by growing the market for the AR-15, and increasing the sales of the gun from 100,000 in 2005 to two million in 2012, the year of the shooting.
“Today is not about honoring our son Benjamin. Today is about how and why Ben died. It is about what is right and what is wrong," Francine Wheeler, whose son Ben was killed in the shooting, said in a statement. "Our legal system has given us some justice today, but David and I will never have true justice. True justice would be our fifteen-year-old healthy and here with us. But Benny will never be 15. He will be 6 forever because he is gone forever. Today is about what is right and what is wrong."
The wrongful death suit faced some long odds due to a shield for firearms manufacturers called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which was believed to have provided blanket immunity in mass shooting cases. But Koskoff says they showed Remington's aggressive marketing was an unfair trade practice, which is a violation of Connecticut law.
"The gun industry has been shielded from being held accountable for their part in these tragedies," Hockley said. "Today that changes."
As part of the settlement, the families also have obtained and can make public thousands of pages of internal company documents proving Remington’s wrongdoing.
President Joe Biden released a statement, saying in part, "This progress is the result of the perseverance of nine families who turned tragedy into purpose. They have demonstrated that state and city consumer protection laws – like Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act – provide an opportunity to hold gun manufacturers and dealers accountable for wrongdoing despite the persistence of the federal immunity shield for these companies."
U.S. Sen Richard Blumenthal said after the announcement, “Congress now must act to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act so that future victims of gun violence can also have their day in court and unlock the doors to justice without needing to overcome sweetheart protections that Congress has granted to the gun industry and only the gun industry.”
“Thanks to the bravery and tireless work of these Sandy Hook families, Remington will be held accountable for their role in the Sandy Hook shooting. You can’t market weapons of war to the masses and claim to have no role in our nation’s gun violence epidemic. Today sends the clear message to the gun industry that the days of their near-total immunity from responsibility are over,” said U.S. Senator Chris Murphy. “This is a groundbreaking victory.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro said in a statement, “This is a historic day, one that would not be possible without the unparalleled courage and determination of the Sandy Hook families who, despite their unspeakable pain and grief, led this fight for nearly eight years.
"This victory is a positive step forward as we continue the fight to hold gun manufacturers accountable and collectively work to enact long-overdue legislation to keep guns out of the wrong hands.”
The Newtown Action Alliance, a national grassroots organization that works to reduce gun violence through legislation and cultural changes, also sent out a statement, saying in part,
“We also join plaintiffs' attorney Josh Koskoff’s call for the nation's insurers and bankers to reconsider doing business with the gun manufacturers who market and sell weapons of war. The $73 million settlement is the maximum coverage from Remington's insurance carriers Liberty Mutual, James River, Chubb and Swiss Re. Insuring and Investing in weapons of choice for mass shooters is an irresponsible business decision.
“We also call on Congress to ban weapons of war by passing Representative David Cicilline and Senator Diane Feinstein’s legislation to ban assault weapons."
Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old gunman in the Sandy Hook shooting, used the rifle made by Remington and legally owned by his mother to kill the children and educators on Dec. 14, 2012, after having killed his mother at their Newtown home. He then used a handgun to kill himself as police arrived.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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