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'This is about what is right and what is wrong': Sandy Hook families settle with gunmaker

Charles Krupa

Attorneys for the families of nine Newtown shooting victims declared victory after reaching a settlement in a seven-year dispute against the gunmaker Remington, whose Bushmaster rifle was used in the 2012 shooting.

The families and a survivor of the shooting sued Remington in 2015. They said the Bushmaster AR-15 is meant for the military, but the company’s marketing pushed the gun into the hands of civilians.

Nicole Hockley’s 6-year-old son Dylan died in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, alongside 19 other schoolchildren and six educators.

“For eight long years, we’ve continued our fight to hold Remington accountable for its role in prioritizing profit above safety, and using reckless marketing techniques to appeal to at-risk and violence-prone young men,” Hockley said. “Marketing that has targeted those that want to appear more intimidating, more powerful and more masculine through the use of their AR-15.”

The company promoted the gun with slogans like “consider your man card reissued.” Attorney Josh Koskoff — who represents the families — said it was a profitable strategy.

“Tap into their desires about masculinity. Tap into their feelings of aggrievement or insecurity. Tell them that this weapon conveys power,” Koskoff said.

Koskoff argued the shooter was exactly the company’s target audience. During a presentation alongside families of the shooting victims, he showed a photo of the Bushmaster AR-15 that was used in the shooting.

“In about five minutes, an AR-15, a combat weapon was used not by a highly trained soldier but by a deeply troubled kid,” Koskoff said. “Not on a battlefield abroad but in an elementary school at home. And not to preserve freedoms, but to eviscerate them.”

Remington filed for bankruptcy in 2020 and its assets were sold off. The company’s insurers have agreed to pay $73 million — the full amount available. And the company has handed over thousands of pages of internal documents — memos the families say will prove its wrongdoing.

Francine Wheeler’s 6-year-old son Ben died in the shooting. She said the settlement provides a measure of justice for her, and her husband David.

“But David 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 Benny will never be 15. He will be six forever because he is gone forever. Today is about what is right and what is wrong.”

Koskoff said he sees the settlement as a roadmap for future challenges to gunmakers when they deny responsibility for how their products are used, and as a message to gunmakers themselves.

“It’s over,” he said. “You’re not invincible. And the best way this could be resolved is if instead of filing lawsuits for shattered, grieving families, the industry could just act like regular, responsible people. I hope this settlement does that.”

The lawsuit played out in state court because a federal law gives gunmakers broad immunity from prosecution over gun violence. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut responded to the settlement with a call on Congress to repeal that law.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.