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Law Professor: Remington News 'Blew A Very Large Hole' In Gun Industry Immunity

Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public Radio

The Supreme Court’s decision declining to block a lawsuit against gun manufacturer Remington Arms throws the spotlight on a 2005 federal law that shields firearms manufacturers from most lawsuits stemming from crimes committed with their products. 

The law is known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA.

The justices rejected an appeal Tuesday from Remington, which is being sued by families of nine of the victims who died at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012. That means the case can proceed in state court in Connecticut.

Connecticut Public Radio’s Ray Hardman spoke with Timothy Lytton, a professor at Georgia State University College of Law. Here are some highlights of their conversation:

On addressing gun violence

It’s an issue that requires a lot of different types of approaches. These include legislation and better enforcement, and in the toolkit of policymakers is litigation and liability exposure. And the immunity bill has basically shut down that part of the toolkit. This case moving forward suggests that liability exposure may be able to bring incentives and pressure on the industry to revisit some of their marketing practices and their gun designs.

On what’s at stake in this case

Since 2005, the gun industry has enjoyed immunity from this kind of litigation, and over and over again lawsuits that have been brought against gun manufacturers after mass shootings have failed. It’s not just a matter of who wins or loses the suit, it’s the ability of plaintiffs to pursue both discovery and possibly a trial, which will put the gun industry and its marketing practices at the center of attention. The discovery process may reveal details about the process and designs, marketing, sales and distribution practices that are currently proprietary and not really well-known about by regulators, that may shed light on the nature of the gun industry’s role in the current gun violence environment.

On the prospect for future cases

The lawsuit is proceeding under a theory that the gun manufacturer was violating the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, and there are similar unfair trade practices acts in all 50 states. So this basically blew a very large hole in the gun industry’s immunity, and it’s a hole that could be exploited by plaintiffs around the country. I would point out that just because the Supreme Court has decided not to review the case at this time, it is possible that once the litigation process plays out in Connecticut there may be another appeal to the Supreme Court, and at that point the court may feel it is time to review the issue.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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