Sandy Hook Father Responds To Court Ruling Against Remington
MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: This week saw a victory for gun control advocates and a rare legal defeat for the firearms industry. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting can sue the manufacturer of the rifle used in that attack. The gun-maker is Remington Arms Company. The gun used is the AR-15-style Bushmaster rifle. One of the plaintiffs in the case is David Wheeler. His 6-year-old son, Ben, was among the 26 people killed - 20 of them first-graders. David, welcome to the program.
DAVID WHEELER: Thank you, Melissa.
BLOCK: What does this news mean to you?
WHEELER: Well, it's complex. Of course, it's complicated. I have an emotional reaction and more of an intellectual reaction that, you know, bounce around in me at the same time. It's a relief, certainly, emotionally. But I understand the - or have some layman's understanding of the complex nature of this case. But more importantly, it's not what it means to me. I think it's what it means for all Americans, which is this is the justice system prevailing. This is the Connecticut State Supreme Court saying these people have a legitimate claim. And they deserve a day in court.
BLOCK: Well, let's talk about what the Connecticut Supreme Court found. They reversed a lower court decision. They found one limited path for you to pursue. They said you can sue on wrongful marketing claims. What, in particular, are you saying those marketing claims were? What advertising was there that is at issue here?
WHEELER: Well, this case is about responsibility. And one of the examples that's been seen a lot lately was one of the ones that shook me to the core when I first saw it. It was an advertisement. And the tagline on the advertisement was, consider your man card reissued. What kind of society allows manhood to be defined in this way?
BLOCK: I'm struck by something that the family's lawyer told the court. He said Remington may never have known the shooter. But they had been courting him for years.
WHEELER: I think that's accurate. If you are selling a product and promising dominance, masculine success and a sense of outmatching your opponents in a very physical and, in fact, lethal way - I mean, who do you think that kind of advertising is going to connect with the most?
BLOCK: As you know, gun-makers do have broad immunity - broad protection under federal law that was passed in 2005. It's protected them from lawsuits before. Are you worried that this decision in Connecticut could be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court?
WHEELER: So I don't completely have a firm grasp on the intricacies of this. But it is my understanding that the Supreme Court initially rules on settled cases, not decisions to send a case to a trial. And it's also my understanding - my layman's understanding, I'll say again - that the Supreme Court is not in the habit of taking cases like this. But we don't know. We'll see.
BLOCK: Are you prepared for more legal setbacks if they come?
WHEELER: I was prepared for legal setbacks five years ago. If this decision had gone the other way, I really do think that we have in some small but, I believe, significant way changed the conversation about the responsibility of firearms manufacturers.
BLOCK: That's David Wheeler. His 6-year-old son, Ben, was among those killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. He's one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Remington Arms Company. Mr. Wheeler, thank you so much for talking with us.
WHEELER: Thank you, Melissa. I appreciate the chance.
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