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Why Bernie Sanders is Wrong About the Sandy Hook Lawsuit

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shutterstock_292582607Juli Hansen / Shutterstock.com

Bernie Sanders is just plain wrong about the lawsuit brought by the Sandy Hook Elementary School parents against the makers of the AR-15 assault rifle that killed 26 people, including 20 children.

Throughout the debate in Flint, Michigan Sunday night, Sanders scored points by lambasting Hillary Clinton for taking the corporate position — on trade agreements, Wall Street, corporate crime and welfare reform — against the middle class and poor.

Then, inexplicably, he flipped and sided with Remington and the other makers of the AR-15 against the middle class parents who lost twenty of their children in December 2014.

At the debate, CNN moderator Anderson Cooper asked Sanders about the lawsuit, brought by Sandy Hook victims against the maker of the AR-15 assault rifle.

“Right now, families of Sandy Hook victims announced that they are going to sue Remington, who made the AR-15 which was used in the Newtown massacre,” Cooper said to applause.

“Now, they believe — those families believe that — that Remington, the distributors, the sellers — should be held legally responsible for how that gun — how their product is used.”

“Now, the lawsuit may not go anywhere because of the bill you voted for — legislation that prevents gun makers from being sued. Tonight, what do you say to those families?”

“Well, this is what I say,” Sanders said. “If I understand it — and correct me if I’m wrong. If you go to a gun store and you legally purchase a gun, and then, three days later, if you go out and start killing people, is the point of this lawsuit to hold the gun shop owner or the manufacturer of that gun liable?

“If that is the point, I have to tell you I disagree. I disagree because you hold people — in terms of this liability thing, where you hold manufacturers’ liability is if they understand that they’re selling guns into an area that — it’s getting into the hands of criminals, of course they should be held liable.

“But if they are selling a product to a person who buys it legally, what you’re really talking about is ending gun manufacturing in America. I don’t agree with that.”

Then Rubio-like, Sanders started repeating the same point.

“If that is the case, then essentially, your position is there should not be any guns in America, period,” Sanders said.

And then for a third time — “as I understand it, Anderson, and maybe I’m wrong, what you’re really talking about is people saying let’s end gun manufacturing in America. That’s the implications of that, and I don’t agree with that.”

Shortly after the debate ended, the National Rifle Association tweeted — “Senator Sanders was spot-on in his comments about gun manufacturer liability.”

The reality is that the Sandy Hook lawsuit will not end gun manufacturing in America.

It might end Remington’s marketing of a military assault weapon to civilians at Wal-Mart. But it will not end gun manufacturing in America.

What Sanders said Sunday night was just un-Bernie like. He blew it. And he ought to apologize to the Sandy Hook families.

Josh Koskoff is the lawyer representing the Sandy Hook victims in their lawsuit against Remington.

“This case is about a particular weapon, the AR-15, and its sale to civilians,” Koskoff told us. “It has nothing to do with the firearms industry as a whole. The AR-15 is to guns what a tank is to cars — uniquely dangerous and not suitable to public use. The AR-15 was designed and manufactured for the military for the purpose of killing the enemy with maximum efficiency.”

“The families’ lawsuit does not contend that Remington should be held liable simply for manufacturing the AR-15,” Koskoff said. “Indeed, Remington and other manufacturers’ production of the AR-15 is essential to the military and law enforcement. But Remington is responsible for its choice to sell that same weapon to the public, and for highlighting the military and assaultive capacities of the weapon in its marketing.”

The point of the Sandy Hook lawsuit is that the AR-15 is a military assault weapon.

It’s a deadly killing machine designed to inflict mass carnage quickly and efficiently on actual battlefields.

It was never intended for civilians.

It has no legitimate civilian use and does not belong in the hands of civilians.

The AR-15 can unleash 30 rounds in under 10 seconds and can penetrate body armor.

It was built for warfare and has been the military’s weapon of choice for 50 years because of its efficiency in killing large numbers of people.

When entrusted to the military and law enforcement officers, the AR-15 requires more than 100 hours of training, remains locked in a secure weapons room on military bases with strict protocols for signing out the weapon that maintain a chain of custody at all times.

The lawsuit alleges that Remington recklessly entrusts the rifle to civilians with no training, no license and no conceivable use for it other than the mass killing of other human beings.

Since 2001, there have been eleven mass shootings in America in which the shooter chose an AR-15-style weapon for his attack, most recently in San Bernardino.

Taking AR-15s off store shelves would literally save lives.

It wouldn’t shut down the gun industry, as Sanders says.

It would just take the AR-15s off the shelves at Wal-Mart and other retail outlets.

The Sandy Hook families are saying, in effect, that the calculated, reckless and profit-driven decision by Remington to market and sell the AR-15 to civilians caused the massacre of 26 people, including 20 first-grade children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Remington, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of AR-15s, markets these military killing machines to violence-prone, militaristic young men.

The company’s aggressive marketing strategy is both successful and lucrative.

Remington loans its brand to “Call of Duty,” the popular war-based video game that Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza played fanatically.

The company advertises on websites such AR15.com, a web forum that Lanza visited frequently.

The AR-15 lets young, military-obsessed men get a killing machine without the training, discipline or mental health evaluation that the military requires.

Remington profits from that. In its 2015 annual report, the company even expressed concern about the effect that background checks and mental health treatment “may have on our … financial condition.”

The Sandy Hook families want the case to proceed to trial so that Remington faces the consequences of their deliberate and deadly decision to market and sell the AR-15 to the general public.

Remington failed in its effort to get the case removed from Connecticut state court to federal district court — where the law is friendlier to gun makers.

Now, the gun makers want to get the case thrown out of court altogether.

Koskoff recently countered with a petition asking for a day in court. The judge will decide any day now whether to hear the case.

As for the law that Sanders voted for in 2005 — the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act — it grants gun manufacturers immunity from any lawsuit related to injuries that result from criminal misuse of the product.

But there are exceptions to the immunity law — one of which is called “negligent entrustment.”

Let’s say that Remington knowingly sold the AR-15 to an intoxicated person. Then — no immunity.

Koskoff argues in the lawsuit that the way in which Remington and the other companies market the AR-15 is a form of “negligent entrustment.”

It’s a long shot.

But the families deserve their day in court.

And even if they win, it won’t shut down the industry, as Sanders claims.

More articles by:

Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..

CounterPunch Magazine

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