While Democrats used the momentum from the June 12 Orlando, Florida, massacre to jockey for gun control measures, the shooting may also reinvigorate the plaintiffs in a local legal battle against a gun manufacturer.
A group of families from Newtown, Connecticut, filed a lawsuit in 2014 that would hold gun manufacturers and dealers responsible if their guns are used in a crime, the New York Times reported. The plaintiffs are relatives of the 25 people killed by gunman Adam Lanza during the Dec. 14, 2012, rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Lanza used a variation of the AR-15, a civilian rifle based on the M-16 military rifle used by U.S. soldiers and Marines. Military versions are capable of burst fire, usually three rounds per trigger pull, as well as fully automatic fire modes. The AR-15, by contrast, fires one round per trigger pull and does not have an automatic mode.
Although it's been widely reported that Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter who took 49 lives on June 12, was using an AR-15, the gunman was actually using a Sig Sauer MCX rifle. The weapons are aesthetically similar, the Washington Post notes, but have different internal mechanisms.
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According to the Times report, legal experts thought the Newtown lawsuit would be thrown out, but that hasn't happened. Judge Barbara N. Bellis of State Superior Court has already set a trial date for 2018 and ordered the gun's manufacturers to hand over internal documents and marketing materials.
In arguing that gun manufacturers and dealers are liable if someone uses their weapons to commit a crime, the plaintiffs are pursuing a unique legal strategy, experts say. They're arguing that the availability of the assault rifles endangers the entire public, not just victims of crimes that have already been committed.
"The novelty of the approach is that it doesn’t depend upon an argument that the manufacturer knows that a particular shooter is a high-risk buyer," Georgetown University law professor Heidi Li Feldman told the Times. "The novelty is that it substitutes the general public for a particular individual."
The plaintiffs are also focused on the way rifles are marketed to civilians. Bushmaster, which manufactured the AR-15 used by Lanza, uses slogans like "Get your man card" and "The opposition will bow down," the Times noted.
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That sort of marketing doesn't sit well with Mark and Jacqueline Barden, whose 7-year-old son Daniel was killed by Lanza. The couple has since conducted its own research into the way gun manufacturers present their weapons to prospective buyers but said the discovery phase of the lawsuit will illuminate the company's internal thought process when it comes to marketing.
Mark said the Newtown shootings prompted his wife to dig up as much information as she could.
"She was trying to research how the kid around the corner got his hands on a military rifle designed for combat," he told the Times, "and carried it into our son’s school to murder him."
A hearing scheduled for June 20 will further determine the future of the Newtown families' lawsuit.