The $72 million Sandy Hook settlement could set a game-changing precedent for gun cases

Remington has agreed to pay out millions to families of victims killed by its rifle in 2012.

NEWTOWN, CT - OCTOBER 04:  Dozens of people attend a vigil remembering the 58 people killed in Sunda...
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Nearly a decade after a lone gunman murdered 26 people — the majority of them just 6 and 7 years old — at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the families of the victims were granted a measure of closure this week, after the firearm manufacturer behind the primary weapon used in the massacre agreed to a massive financial settlement for its role in one of the most horrific instances of gun violence in American history.

In a court filing published Tuesday, Remington Arms agreed to pay $72 million to the families of nine people killed at Sandy Hook in 2012, bringing to a close a class action lawsuit brought against the AR-15 maker. The suit, initially filed in 2014, accused the company of inappropriately promoting the sale of weapons to specifically “violence-prone men.”

“Using marketing to convey that a person is more powerful or more masculine by using a particular type or brand of firearm is deeply irresponsible,” Nicole Hockley, founder of the gun violence prevention group Sandy Hook Promise, said in a statement. “My hope is that by facing and finally being penalized for the impact of their work, gun companies, along with the insurance and banking industries that enable them, will be forced to make their business practices safer than they have ever been.”

Crucially, the settlement not only doubles Remington’s initial proposal of just $33 million, but also grants the families the right to publish “internal company documents that prove Remington’s wrongdoing” in the case, a statement from the families noted.

The expansion of the onus of responsibility in mass shooting, from focusing solely on the gunman to now including the broader corporate forces that may have contributed to the act of violence, represents a potentially major sea change in how gun violence cases will be treated moving forward.

“This victory should serve as a wake-up call not only to the gun industry, but also the insurance and banking companies that prop it up,” attorney Josh Koskoff, who represented the families in this suit, explained. “For the gun industry, it’s time to stop recklessly marketing all guns to all people for all uses and instead ask how marketing can lower risk rather than court it. For the insurance and banking industries, it’s time to recognize the financial cost of underwriting companies that elevate profit by escalating risk. Our hope is that this victory will be the first boulder in the avalanche that forces that change.”

In a statement hailing the settlement as “historic,” President Biden — facing recent criticism for his administration’s lackluster stance on gun violence — struck a similarly optimistic tone for the precedent set by the decision.

“While this settlement does not erase the pain of that tragic day, it does begin the necessary work of holding gun manufacturers accountable for manufacturing weapons of war and irresponsibly marketing these firearms,” Biden said.

Still, significant as the settlement is, it remains a bittersweet victory for the families of those killed in Newtown.

“Today is not about honoring our son Benjamin. Today is about how and why Ben died,” Sandy Hook mother and plaintiff in the suit Francine Wheeler said in a statement. “It is about what is right and what is wrong. Our legal system has given us some justice today, but David and I will never have true justice. True justice would be our 15-year-old healthy and here with us.”