The families of nine people killed in a 2012 massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school sued the maker of the gun used in the attack on Monday, saying the weapon should not have been sold because it had no reasonable civilian purpose.
While the AR-15 assault weapon used in the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School was legally sold in Connecticut, the lawsuit contends that the weapon should not have been available to 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza. The AR-15 is manufactured by Bushmaster, a privately held company based in Windham, Maine.
Lanza shot dead 20 first-graders and six educators in the Dec. 14, 2012, attack, which stands as one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. The massacre sparked a fresh debate on gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
"This is a weapon that is designed for military use, for killing as many people as efficiently as possible," Michael Koskoff, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a phone interview. "It's negligent for any seller to sell a weapon like that to the general public."
The lawsuit, filed in Connecticut Superior Court in Bridgeport by the families of nine of the people killed in the attack and a person who was wounded, seeks unspecified monetary damages.
The 40-page suit names Bushmaster as well as a weapons distributor and the retailer that sold the gun used in the shooting as defendants.
Bushmaster officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has brought dozens of lawsuits, many successful, against gun makers and sellers when there was evidence that a gun was wrongly sold to a person who went on to use it in a crime, said Jonathan Lowy, the group's director for legal action.
But the Sandy Hook suit makes a broader case, attempting to get around protections for gun makers included in the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which blocked liability suits against gun makers when their products were used criminally.
"This immunity does not apply to a claim based on negligent entrustment," Koskoff said.
After the Sandy Hook shooting, Connecticut's Democratic governor, Dannel Malloy, pushed through one of the strictest gun laws in the United States, banning more than 100 types of military-style rifles and limiting ammunition magazines to 10 bullets.
Even as Connecticut and neighboring states tightened gun rules, other states rejected new curbs on gun ownership.
Bill Sherlach, whose 56-year-old wife Mary Sherlach was a school psychologist killed in the attack, said the suit was necessary to hold gun makers accountable.
"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," Sherlach said in a statement.
Lanza, who began the shooting spree by killing his mother at their home, ended his rampage by turning his gun on himself as he heard police approaching.