Last Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal filed by firearm manufacturer Remington Arms to block a lawsuit brought by relatives of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The families argued that Remington should be held partially liable for the 2012 shooting because their AR-15 assault rifle, a military-style weapon, was used in the shooting. Remington’s advertising of the deadly gun was also challeneged.
For those on the right who consider this decision by the Supreme Court some sort of government overreach, consider that the only reason firearm manufacturers have had so much immunity from legal action in the past is a result of steps already taken by the federal government. Specifically, a 2005 bill passed by the Republican majority Congress gave gun manufacturers protection from lawsuits when crimes have been committed with their products, and has allowed them to remain unaccountable for the hundreds of deaths caused by their assault weapons.
I do not believe that every firearm related death needs to become a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the gun, but when companies advertise weapons such as the AR-15, created for military purposes, they should be able to be taken to court and scrutinized before a jury.
Obviously Adam Lanza, not Remington, is primarily to blame for the Sandy Hook shooting. However, we could speculate that without a system that allows for mass marketing and easy acquisition of AR-15 assault rifles, the massacre may not have happened, or at the very least not inflicted such a high death toll.
Immunity for massive corporations in the name of free markets does not make the American people any safer. That is why cigarette companies were banned from advertising on television after the deadly effects of their products were realized, and the health benefits across the country have been immense. Thus, there is no reason for Remington to be able to advertise their weapons with slogans like "Consider your man card reissued." Such appeals to a violent masculinity certainly cannot help the mass shooting epidemic in this country, especially when nearly all mass shootings are carried out by men.
Even if Remington wins the lawsuit, as they are predicted to do, the Supreme Court’s decision to allow this case to go to trial should alert gun manufacturers to the reality that they should—and can be—held accountable for violence perpetrated with their firearms. If there is one thing that could force gun manufacturers to start caring about mass shootings in America, it is their bottom line.
The fact that a debate is even necessary on whether or not massive gun manufacturers should be held accountable when they produce and promote weapons that contribute to the deaths of children is yet another symptom of an economic system that prioritizes the rights of large companies over the safety and well-being of the American people as a whole.
It is this very system that allows fossil fuel companies to destroy our environment without fear of repercussions, and the system that allowed Wall Street to be bailed out with almost no prosecution when their actions caused mass unemployment and suffering in the late 2000s.
The Supreme Court cannot be our only source of hope to combat this system, especially now that there is a firm conservative majority in our nation’s highest court. We need structural economic change and resistance to a capitalist system which perpetuates the rights of corporations at the expense of the American people.