In 2005, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which restricts lawsuits against gun sellers and makers by granting industrywide immunity from blame when one of their products is used in a crime. Lawmakers behind the measure cited a need to foil what they described as predatory and politically driven litigation.
The law does allow exceptions for sale and marketing practices that violate state or federal laws and instances of so-called negligent entrustment, in which a gun is carelessly given or sold to a person posing a high risk of misusing it. The families pushed to broaden the scope to include the manufacturer, Remington, which was named in the suit, along with a wholesaler and a local retailer.
The lawsuit said that the companies were wrong to entrust an untrained civilian public with a weapon designed for maximizing fatalities on the battlefield. Lawyers pointed out advertising — with messages of combat dominance and hyper-masculinity — that resonated with disturbed young men who could be induced to use the weapon to commit violence.
“Remington may never have known Adam Lanza, but they had been courting him for years,” Mr. Koskoff, one of the lawyers representing the families, told the panel of judges during oral arguments in the case in 2017. The weapon used by Mr. Lanza had been legally purchased by his mother, Nancy Lanza, whom he also killed.
Lawyers representing the gun companies argued that the claims raised in the lawsuit were specifically the kind that federal law inoculated them against. In oral arguments, lawyers for the companies argued that the weapons were marketed as being used for home defense and target practice, and not to commit violence.
They said that agreeing with the families’ arguments would require amending the law or ignoring how it had been applied in the past.
James B. Vogts, a lawyer for Remington, said in court that the shooting “was a tragedy that cannot be forgotten.”
“But no matter how tragic,” he added, “no matter how much we wish those children and their teachers were not lost and those damages not suffered, the law needs to be applied dispassionately.”