Remington Arms requested a protective order to shield information that would give the public insight into the internal workings of the company, details families of Sandy Hook victims say will support their argument of negligent entrustment.
The gun maker said documents requested contain proprietary and confidential information that if disclosed would cause financial harm and undermine its edge against competitors, according to the motion filed in a Superior Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on July 5.
Plaintiffs in the case, families of nine victims from the Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2012, filed an objection, saying the documents will shed light on an industry that operates largely in the shadows.
“Remington did not become the country’s leading seller of military weaponry to civilians by accident. It ascended to that position through its calculated marketing and pursuit of profit above all else,” they said. “Plaintiffs lost family members, including children, in the service of that bottom line. Now Remington wants them to do more to protect its profitability.”
The families asked the court to consider that transparency will become a matter of public interest in later stages of the proceedings. “Preserving gun industry secrets and strategies is not in the public interest, because public health and safety are implicated,” they said.
The protective order is Remington’s second effort to limit access to internal documents in the case. In May, the judge presiding over the case denied Remington’s effort to delay the discovery process, which would force the company to submit the documents, because the delay would unnecessarily prolong the trial.
Plaintiffs filed suit in December 2014, arguing ARs — the civilian version of standard U.S. military rifles — are weapons of war and should not be sold to civilians. They argue Remington knew the military aspect would entice the gun owning public and the carnage it could cause. At the Newtown school on Dec. 14, 2012, the gunman fired 154 rounds in less than five minutes and killed 20 first-graders and six educators.
The lawsuit named Remington alongside Bushmaster Firearms, maker of the AR rifle used in the shooting and also a company part of Remington’s larger enterprise, one of its distributors and the store that sold the rifle.
In unrelated cases, courts have considered the internal workings of Remington a matter of public interest. A faulty trigger design of its classic hunting rifle has been the subject of scores of lawsuits since the 1960s, but came to a head in July 2014 when Remington settled a multi-million class action lawsuit, Pollard v. Remington.
In the months after, as the company and class negotiated the settlement agreement, the federal judge hearing the case said the court will not keep information about this suit or settlement from the public nor will the court conceal information from potential class members.
“Given that this case involves alleged design flaws with the Walker Fire Control trigger assembly, there is a strong public interest in not allowing the Court’s orders to be used as a shield that precludes disclosure of this danger,” said U.S. District Court Judge Ortie Smith in a joint order filed in December 2014.
As negotiations continued over the settlement agreement, the father of a victim killed because of a defective rifle in 2000 released a trove of internal company documents he had collected over the years that undermine official statements made by the company in court.
Richard Barber, of Manhattan, Montana, submitted the documents on Dec. 21, 2015, along with a letter describing his intentions. He said he wants to “educate the court” and correct the record that he said has been intentionally muddied by the gun maker.
Last month, the Bridgeport court heard Remington’s arguments to dismiss the case, about two months after a judge denied other efforts for a dismissal. Unless the judge in the case finds the arguments agreeable, trial is scheduled for April 2018.