Breaking: Sandy Hook Lawsuit against AR-15 Maker, Seller Can Proceed
Jon Stokes 04.14.16
A Connecticut judge has allowed the Sandy Hook parents lawsuit to proceed against Remington and the gun store that sold Nancy Lanza the Bushmaster. I’m not a lawyer, so I leave it to legal types to opine on what this means for gun rights. However, I do know something about advertising and how it can come back to bite you if you’re not careful.
Mark Obbie, writing in The Atlantic in February, says as the case goes forward, the families will attempt to use the gun industry’s marketing tactics against it:
Those tactics, never tested before under [Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act], dominate the allegations spelled out in the plaintiffs’ complaint. It quotes several advertisements from a catalog aimed at civilian gun buyers that is adorned with action photos of camouflage-clad soldiers and police in body armor. One reads, “Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered.” Other images tout the rifle’s “military-proven performance” and call it “the ultimate combat weapons system.”
One of the things that surprised me most on my first visit to SHOT Show in the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook, is that so many of the AR-15 makers that I interviewed for my Wired piece told me that they had only recently been permitted to advertise the AR-15 in a “tactical” setting at the show.
For most of SHOT’s history, up until a few years before Sandy Hook (I used to know exactly which year, but I’ve forgotten), the NSSF had a strict requirement that every gun advertised at the show had to be shown in a hunting/sporting context. If you were a maker of AR-15s for the military and wanted to show a picture of a man posing with your gun in your marketing materials or at your booth, you had to dress that guy up in camo and have him aiming at an elk or some such. Everyone thought it was ridiculous and backwards and uncool, and the NSSF finally relented, and now SHOT is like 70% tactical tough guys who look super duper operatory.
Perhaps the NSSF should have held its ground.
Given that this lawsuit is proceeding on the basis of Remington’s “tactical” heavy marketing of the AR-15 as a military weapon, it may yet turn out that the NSSF was 100% correct to want to restrict all depictions of that firearm to hunting/sporting contexts only. And in hindsight we may one day decide that it would have been prudent for the rest of the industry to stick to that course, as well. Could it be that Gun Culture 2.0 has “ripped its britches,” as we say in the South, and that the old-school “Fudds” were right to be leery of too much tacticool? Probably not, but I do want to throw that out there for everyone to chew on. It wouldn’t be the first time the old ways turned out to be the best.
Note that I do not expect this suit to succeed. Gun control orgs have a history of roping grieving families into suits that they cannot win, and then leaving them high and dry with the legal bills when it’s over. (See the most recent Armslist suit, for instance.)
The one good thing that may come of this is that some of the more inflammatory and false claims that are often made about the AR-15 will get a literal day in court, where they can be countered on the record by actual facts and information.
I know that my anti-gun friends sincerely believe themselves to be on the right side of history, and for all I know they may be. I don’t think so, but who’s to say how history will judge us all in 100 years? Regardless, this doesn’t change the fact that so much of the case against the AR is rooted in falsehood and seemingly willful ignorance. If we’re going to put the AR-15 on trial for the crimes of a wacko who stole a legally obtained one, that’s fine as long as it’s a fair trial.