Judge hears arguments in Sandy Hook rifle lawsuit - WFSB 3 Connecticut

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Judge hears arguments in Sandy Hook rifle lawsuit

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Bill Sherlach, whose wife was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, explains why he thinks gun makers should accept accountability. (WFSB photo) Bill Sherlach, whose wife was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, explains why he thinks gun makers should accept accountability. (WFSB photo)
(WFSB file photo) (WFSB file photo)
The AR-15 rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. (State police file photo) The AR-15 rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. (State police file photo)
BRIDGEPORT, CT (WFSB) -

Companies that built, distributed and sold the rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting could bear the responsibility for the crime if a lawsuit is allowed to move to trial.

A judge listened to arguments from the 2014 suit on Monday in Bridgeport. Named in the suit are Bushmaster, Camfour Firearm Distributors and Riverview Gun Sales in East Windsor.

Sandy Hook families addressed the media around 12:30 p.m. in advance of the hearing.

Some of the families involved in the suit attended the hearing. They said they feel the companies played a big role in the tragedy.

“Bushmaster created this rifle and sold it knowing the damage that it does," said Jillian Soto, whose sister Vicki Soto was killed in the shooting.

“I think they should publicly apologize and they should accept responsibility before the losses that continue to come from their guns," said Carlos Soto, Vicki Soto's brother.

The family of Vicki Soto was one of nine that are going after the makers of the AR-15 rifle that shooter Adam Lanza used to kill 26 students and staff in Dec. 2012. Documents released after the shooting revealed Lanza fired more than 150 bullets in less than five minutes.

However, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League said that millions of firearms are "owned by law abiding citizens." 

"It is unconscionable for plaintiffs to assert that a company who manufactures a legal product would do so with any fore-thought that it was somehow acceptable to commit murder with their products," CCDL President Scott Wilson told Eyewitness News.

Wilson called the lawsuit "a ploy with an attempt to destroy gun manufacturers."

"In essence, if a manufacturer of firearms can somehow be blamed for an individual committing acts of murder, then there will be no end of blame for  manufacturer of any product used to commit any crime. Firearms are just legally owned devices that are protected under the 2nd Amendment of our constitution," Wilson said. 

"The manufacturer is marketing to people like Adam Lanza and it's time they take responsibility for that," said Mark Barden, father of a victim of the Sandy Hook shooting.

The family of Vicki Soto said their belief is that the gun should never have been in the hands of a civilian. They claim it was designed for military and police use.

“Just because something is legal doesn’t make it safe, or doesn’t mean it should be sold and the people to best know that are not the elected leaders, they are the manufacturers who know the history of the weapon," Jillian Soto said.

The complaint said time and time again, mentally unstable individuals and criminals have acquired AR-15s with ease and have unleashed its lethal power on the streets, in malls, in places of worship and in schools.

The suit said Bushmaster should have known that the sale of the rifles posed an unreasonable and egregious risk of physical injury and would be used in mass shootings at places like schools, which are particularly vulnerable.

“Just because something is legal doesn’t make it safe or doesn’t mean it should be sold and the people to best know that are not elected leaders, they are the manufacturers who know the history of the weapon," said Joshua Koskoff, the attorney representing the families.

Bill Sherlach, the husband of Mary Sherlach, a child psychologist killed in the school, said "these companies assume no responsibility for marketing and selling a product to the greatest population who are not trained to use it or even understand the power of it."

"You build a defective car, any other product is not granted this safe harbor, any other product is held accountable," Sherlach said. "I'm hoping to peel that curtain back to see what they have been doing to stoke the fire and fuel the rage of these young males to do what they want to do."

A motion to dismiss the case was filled by the gun companies, according to  the plaintiff's attorney.

Gun manufacturers said they are immune under a 2005 law passed by Congress.

"Every gun manufacturer could be held for every death - they're creating a liability scheme against manufacturers of liable products and that's exactly what the federal law is intended to avoid," said James Vogts, attorney for Remington.

The law shields manufacturers, dealers, and sellers from civil action resulting from criminal use of their guns.

In court on Monday, they said their job was not to argue whether that should indeed be a law, but simply show this case falls under it. That's why they filed the motion to dismiss.

The attorney for the families said he knows the gun maker did not break any laws, but said there is a difference between what is lawful, and what is negligent.

It is now up to the judge to proceed or not.

She did not rule on Monday afternoon, and said her intention is to do so at a status hearing 60 days from now.

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