Bushmaster Firearms rifle found at Sandy Hook Elementary School, pictured in an evidence photo released by the Connecticut State Police, December 27, 2013. (Connecticut State Police/Handout via Reuters)Two kinds of opportunism are at play against the gun manufacturer: financial and political.
Rule No. 1 of tort law: The bad guy is the one with the most money to pay you.
On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza murdered 26 people, 20 of them schoolchildren ages six and seven.
Lanza killed himself, too. Can’t sue him.
Lanza had a history of mental illness — a long one. He’d been treated under the New Hampshire “Birth to Three” program and later by the Yale Child Study Center. But it would be hard to make a case against those institutions, which enjoy a great deal more sympathy than gun manufacturers do. The schools couldn’t handle Lanza, either, and he was left to the care of his mother, Nancy, who seems to have been a bit of an oddball herself and an enabler. But he murdered her, too, so she’s not around to sue.
Nancy Lanza liked guns, and had a few, which is how Adam Lanza armed himself with the semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle he used in the massacre.
Bushmaster was a firearms maker founded in Maine in 1976. It changed owners a couple of times and ended up as part of the Freedom Group, a firearms conglomerate owned by Cerberus Capital, a private-equity firm, at the time of the massacre. Freedom ended up becoming the Remington Outdoor Company as part of a bankruptcy reorganization completed last year. Cerberus announced it was unloading its firearms businesses after Sandy Hook (under pressure from institutional investors, notably the California teachers’ retirement fund), but that proved easier said than done. Cerberus ended up largely ceding control of the debt-ridden company to creditors, Franklin Templeton and JPMorgan Chase prominent among them. In July 2018, Remington rejected a $500 million buyout. It gets complicated, but the lawsuit against the thing called “Remington” is in effect a lawsuit against the deep-pocketed financiers associated with it.
That’s who you sue.
The lawsuit against Remington alleges that the company’s marketing practices contributed to the Sandy Hook massacre. “Remington may never have known Adam Lanza, but they had been courting him for years,” a lawyer for the plaintiffs said. But it is not clear that Remington courted Lanza at all — and it is quite clear that the company never courted him successfully, inasmuch as he stole the Bushmaster rifle he used in the crimes from his mother, whom he murdered. Connecticut has a law against “unfair trade practices,” which is a very odd way of looking at a mass murder.
So, in sum: Remington’s private-equity owners acquired Bushmaster and formed a new company. That company sold a rifle to a distributor, which in turn sold it to a federally licensed gun dealership, which in turned sold it — legally — to Adam Lanza’s mother. She was murdered, and her rifle was used in a horrifying massacre . . . and . . . if you squint . . . this somehow leads back to the marketing department at Remington, which advertised the Bushmaster rifle as a cousin to the standard-issue U.S. military rifle, which it is.
The lawsuit against Remington is bogus. It has little to do with Connecticut commercial law and everything to do with a substantive gun-control agenda and the opportunistic inclination to wring money from institutions that have a great deal of it. From the opinion of the state supreme court:
The gravamen of the plaintiffs’ complaint was that the defendants negligently entrusted to civilian consumers an assault rifle that is suitable for use only by military and law enforcement personnel and violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) (§ 42–110a et seq.) through the sale or wrongful marketing of the rifle. The plaintiffs’ first theory of liability was that the rifle is a military grade weapon that is grossly ill-suited for legitimate civilian purposes such as self-defense or recreation, that the rifle and other similar semiautomatic weapons have become the weapon of choice for mass shootings and, therefore, that the risks associated with selling the rifle to the civilian market far outweigh any potential benefits, that the defendants continued to sell the rifle despite their knowledge of these facts, and that it therefore was negligent and an unfair trade practice under CUTPA for the defendants to sell the weapon, knowing that it eventually would be purchased by a civilian customer who might share it with other civilian users.
This is another way of saying that Remington’s owners are being sued for failing to concur with the substantive political views of gun-control advocates, i.e. that the weapon in question is “ill-suited for legitimate civilian purposes such as self-defense or recreation,” a claim that, it is worth noting, is false on its face inasmuch as semiautomatic rifles are proven instruments of self-defense and by far the most popular recreational firearms in the United States.
The use of commercial litigation and regulatory law to achieve progressive political goals is by now familiar: If an oil company opposes global-warming initiatives, that isn’t politics but “securities fraud,” as far as Democrats are concerned; if conservative activists want to show a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the lead-up to a presidential election, that isn’t politics but a “campaign-finance violation,” as far as Democrats are concerned.
This lawsuit happens against the background of progressive demands that certain political views be criminalized.
There are two kinds of opportunism at work here: One is purely financial, the prospect of getting a big payday that sets the stage for additional big paydays in the future as the ghouls go from manufacturer to manufacturer and crime scene to crime scene collecting billions of dollars as they go. The second is political opportunism, the attempt to establish the precedent that failing to go along with the progressive political agenda makes one an enemy of the state, subject to political sanction and criminal prosecution.
The crime here was committed by Adam Lanza. But he isn’t the one with the money, and there’s no political juice in going after him.