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Sandy Hook families file lawsuit against Bushmaster Firearms for wrongful death

The law firm representing ten families -- nine of whom lost family members in the Sandy Hook shooting, along with a teacher who was shot multiple times but survived -- has said they have initiated a lawsuit against the manufacturer, distributor, and seller of the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle used in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. The lawsuit alleges negligence and wrongful death.

The lawsuit asserts that the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, which was used to kill 20 first-grade students and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, should not have been entrusted to the general public because it is a military assault weapon that is unsuited for civilian use.

The AR-15 rifle, designed as a lightweight, but fearsome combat weapon for troops in Vietnam, can expel 30 bullets in a matter of seconds, each of which is capable of piercing body armor and causing catastrophic injury. This is the reason it has endured as the United States Army’s standard issue service rifle for 50 years, and has more recently become a valuable law enforcement weapon. This is also the reason it has no place among Americans’ handguns and hunting rifles.

“The AR-15 was specifically engineered for the United States Military to meet the needs of changing warfare,” said Josh Koskoff of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, the Connecticut firm representing the families. “In fact, one of the Army’s specifications for the AR-15 was that it has the capability to penetrate a steel helmet. This weapon was not designed for home defense or hunting. This weapon was designed to efficiently kill other human beings in combat.”

The lawsuit points out that not only do the military and law enforcement have a legitimate need for a weapon as lethal as the AR-15, they also go to great lengths to ensure the weapon is used and stored safely. Soldiers and law enforcement officers are not simply handed assault rifles; they undergo advanced training and must adhere to strict safety protocols. In the Army, for example, soldiers are instructed to never let their rifle out of their sight under any circumstances. Entire military bases have been shut down because a single rifle could not be accounted for.

The contrast to the civilian population is stark according to the suit. Most states do not even require a permit to purchase an assault rifle, and studies have repeatedly shown that about 50 percent of gun owners do not secure their weapons properly, making them accessible to individuals other than the purchaser.

“The risk of a mentally unstable individual gaining access to an assault rifle and unleashing its military firepower on innocent civilians is not theoretical for Bushmaster. It’s a fact,” said Katie Mesner-Hage, also of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder.

Prior to the Sandy Hook shooting, assault rifles like the Bushmaster had been used to kill indiscriminately in communities all over the country. And that death toll -- even prior to Sandy Hook -- included elementary school children and high school children, said Mesner-Hage.

Bushmaster’s marketing tactics reinforce the image of its assault rifle as a combat weapon. According to the suit, Bushmaster advertises rifles like the one used at Sandy Hook as “the ultimate combat weapons system” and “the uncompromising choice when you demand a rifle as mission-adaptable as you are.” In fact, Bushmaster uses the unparalleled lethality of the weapon as a selling point. In one advertisement for an AR-15 rifle, the text reads: “Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered.”

Plaintiff Bill Sherlach, the husband of Mary Sherlach, a 56-year-old school psychologist who lost her life while confronting the shooter as he entered the school, believes the lawsuit is necessary to ensure that the gun industry is held to the same rules as every other industry.

A businessman himself, Sherlach noted: “In business, measuring risk prior to producing, marketing, and selling a product or service is standard procedure. For far too long the gun industry has been given legislative safe harbor from this standard business practice. These companies assume no responsibility for marketing and selling a product to the general population who are not trained to use it nor even understand the power of it. I believe in the Second Amendment but I also believe that the gun industry should be brought to bear the same business risk that every other business assumes when it comes to producing, marketing, and selling a product.”

In addition to Bushmaster, the families have named Camfour, a firearm distributor, and Riverview Gun Sales, the store where the Bushmaster rifle was purchased in 2010.



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