The Connecticut Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the firearms industry on Thursday, clearing the way for a lawsuit to move forward against the companies that manufactured and sold the semiautomatic rifle used by the gunman in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The ruling allows the lawsuit brought by victims’ relatives to go to trial, which could force gun companies to turn over internal communications that they have fiercely fought to keep private and provide a revealing — and possibly damaging — glimpse into how the industry operates.
The decision represents a significant development in the long-running battle between gun control advocates and the gun lobby.
The ruling validates the novel strategy lawyers for the victims’ families used as they sought to find a route around the vast protections in federal law that guard gun companies from litigation when their products are used to commit a crime.
The victims’ relatives had faced long odds as they argued that the gun companies bore some responsibility for the horrific attack.
The lawsuit argued that the AR-15-style Bushmaster used in the 2012 attack had been marketed as a weapon of war, invoking the violence of combat and using slogans like “Consider your man card reissued.”
Such messages reflected, according to the lawsuit, a deliberate effort to appeal to troubled young men like Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who charged into the elementary school and killed 26 people, including 20 first graders, in a spray of gunfire. The attack traumatized the nation and made Newtown, Conn., the small town where it happened, a rallying point in the broader debate over gun violence.
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