Judge blocks bid by families of Sandy Hook victims to sue gun manufacturers, sellers – Politico

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by BigJim Jenness

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Parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre victims speak during a press conference on January 14, 2013 in Newtown, Connecticut. | Getty

A Connecticut judge on Friday blocked a bid by parents of Sandy Hook victims to sue the gun industry for their children’s deaths, citing a law at the center of a Democratic primary fight.

Citing the 2005 bill that grants broad immunity to the firearms industry, Connecticut State Judge Barbara Bellis granted a motion from the manufacturer, distributor and seller of shooter Adam Lanza’s assault rifle to strike the lawsuit.

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In a ruling in April, Bellis had allowed the case to proceed, renewing the debate over the immunity rule as the Democratic primary reached its pitch. It put Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had supported the immunity measure, known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, in an awkward position. Clinton, who has vowed to push for its repeal as president, seized on the issue — one of the few where she ran to Sanders’ left.

Sanders said the law would protect mom-and-pop gun shops in his native Vermont from going out of business when someone illegally uses their product to hurt people.

Since the primary, Clinton has made gun control a central part of her general election bid, with the daughter of the school’s slain principal serving as a high-profile surrogate. Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association endorsed Donald Trump, and is one of the few outside groups running ads to support him.

Several families of the children massacred at their elementary school in December 2013, as well as a survivor of the attack, filed the suit against the gun manufacturers Bushmaster and Remington, as well as the distributor and gun shop that sold Lanza’s mother his XM15, an AR-15 copycat.

The Newtown families argued that the makers and sellers of the weapon “know that civilians are unfit to operate AR-15s” but continue selling it despite “the unreasonable risks” it poses, the 54-page ruling recounted.

But after delving into the congressional debate over the measure, Bellis concluded, “The plaintiffs have alleged facts that place them directly in the category of victims to which the Congress knowingly denied relief.”

The industry praised the ruling — and the law behind it.

“This law passed Congress over a dozen years ago by a broad bipartisan margin,” said Larry Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, in an email. “Contrary to Hillary Clinton’s false misleading claims, it does not provide ‘blanket immunity.’ It merely bars lawsuits seeking to hold manufacturers and dealers responsible for the criminal misuse of legal, non-defective products that were lawfully sold.”

Americans for Responsible Solutions slammed the decision ahead of a visit to Newtown on Saturday by the group’s founder, former Rep. Gabby Giffords.

“This is the result of legal immunity for the gun industry: Grieving parents and other victims are denied access to the courts and denied an opportunity for a fair hearing,” said Peter Ambler, the group’s executive director. “Virtually no other industry enjoys this special protection from accountability. PLCAA is an outrageous giveaway to the firearms industry, a giveaway that virtually no other industry enjoys. It is past time for this irresponsible and unfair law to be overturned.”

The families will appeal the ruling immediately, said their lawyer, Josh Koskoff.

“While the families are obviously disappointed with the judge’s decision, this is not the end of the fight,” Koskoff said in a statement.