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Sandy Hook families hope the Remington settlement prompts change in the gun industry

A makeshift shrine to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting is set up shortly after the massacre in December 2012 in Newtown, Conn.
Emmanuel Dunand
AFP via Getty Images
A makeshift shrine to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting is set up shortly after the massacre in December 2012 in Newtown, Conn.

Families of victims killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have reached a landmark settlement with the gun-maker Remington Arms. The lawsuit closes almost 10 years after the massacre that killed six adults and 20 schoolchildren between 6 and 7 years old.

Remington's four insurers have all agreed to pay $73 million total as the result of the suit, which questioned how Remington marketed the model of AR-15-style rifle used in the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.

"Our legal system has given us some justice today," said Francine Wheeler on the suit's close, whose 6-year-old son, Benjamin, was killed in the shooting. "But David and I will never have true justice. True justice would be our 15-year-old healthy and standing next to us right now."

Benjamin's father, David Wheeler,joinedMorning Edition to reflect on whether the settlement will change how the gun industry markets deadly weapons.

"Perhaps there's some solace in knowing, or thinking or hoping that another family will be spared this kind of tragedy and trauma and loss because another young person doesn't feel it necessary to make themselves feel like more of a man, or more effective or make a mark in society by using this in the wrong way," Wheeler says.

Connecticut Public Radio's Frankie Graziano tellsUp First that the families sued in the hopes of stopping future shootings in part by putting companies that insure gun manufacturers on notice that they could be forced to pay huge amounts in some circumstances. Families also fought to be able to release documents they obtained during the discovery phase of the suit that they say show Remington targeted insecure young men specifically with their gun marketing, reports Graziano.

Although federal law usually protects U.S. gun-makers from liability, the Connecticut families argued the way Remington marketed the gun used in the killings violated that state's consumer law and prioritized profits over public safety. The settlement still needs a judge's approval to be final.

The settlement may mark the first time that damages of this magnitude are awarded against a U.S. gun manufacturer based on a mass shooting, says Adam Skaggs, chief counsel and policy director at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Last year, Nevada's Supreme Court ruled the manufacturers of the weapons used in a 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip couldn't be held responsible for the killings because of a state law that shielded them from liability unless a weapon malfunctions.

Below is more from Wheeler's conversation with Morning Edition host Leila Fadel.

On whether the settlement means justice for families like his

Well, that's a difficult ... thing to describe. I mean, the whole point of this suit from the very beginning was to try to move the needle in the way the firearms industry operates in this country. They're the only industry that has blanket immunity that creates these lethal products and markets them and manufactures them and brings them to the market. And the whole point of this, from the beginning, was to try to change how that works. And I think we've done it a little bit, and for that, I'm satisfied.

On what people should know about how gun manufacturers operate

Well, up until yesterday, the gun industry has essentially been untouchable and the insurance companies and the banking industries have been shielded from accountability in that way as well, through this blanket immunity they have through the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that was signed in 2005, commonly known as PLCAA. And it just doesn't seem right, and it doesn't seem fair that you should be able to manufacture and market the most lethal consumer product we know, without any checks and balances on the way you do that. There's a reasonable and a morally acceptable way to market anything. And you have to take into account the circumstances surrounding the product that you create, that you bring to the marketplace. So we're hoping that this will move things in the right direction in terms of this industry being a little bit more responsible about how they make their money and not to prioritize profits over people's lives.

On what still needs to change and what already has about gun ownership in America

You know, it'll be a little while before we know this concretely, but the right direction for this would be for companies that make these products, as they said, to be more responsible in the way they bring them to market. When you're making the world's most lethal consumer product, it doesn't make sense to try to appeal to the sense of insecurity or to try to appeal to promised glory or masculinity to some disaffected young person. That just doesn't seem right. It's clear that that kind of approach results in the kind of tragedy that befell my family and hurt countless others.

On what he and his family will do now that the years-long lawsuit is over

Well, we just go on, you know, one foot in front of the other.

This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

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Nell Clark
Nell Clark is an editor at Morning Edition and a writer for NPR's Live Blog. She pitches stories, edits interviews and reports breaking news. She started in radio at campus station WVFS at Florida State University, then covered climate change and the aftermath of Hurricane Michael for WFSU in Tallahassee, Fla. She joined NPR in 2019 as an intern at Weekend All Things Considered. She is proud to be a member of NPR's Peer-to-Peer Trauma Support Team, a network of staff trained to support colleagues dealing with trauma at work. Before NPR, she worked as a counselor at a sailing summer camp and as a researcher in a deep-sea genetics lab.