HARTFORD, Conn. — After agreeing to a $73 million settlement with gun maker Remington, the families of nine victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting say they are focused on ending the gun advertising with macho and military themes that exploit young men’s insecurities, all in hopes of preventing further mass shootings.
The families say Remington used such ads to promote its AR-15-style rifles like the one used to kill 20 young children and six educators inside the school in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.
Remington’s marketing strategies are expected to come to light when the families’ attorneys publicly release thousands of internal company documents obtained in the lawsuit. Lawyers for Remington and its insurers agreed to the disclosure as part of the settlement announced Tuesday.
“It’s about creating change,” Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son Dylan was killed in the shooting, said in an interview after the settlement was announced. “Right now, I’m really looking forward to gaining access to the documents and understanding how to use them to drive security and best practices for sales and marketing.”
Hockley, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, worked with relatives of other victims to stem gun violence through the organization Sandy Hook Promise.
The archives could provide one of the most detailed insights yet into gunmakers’ efforts to popularize AR-15s and similar rifles, according to gun industry watchers, especially after a 10-year federal ban on such weapons expired in 2004.
Hockley and outside observers have likened the case to ones that led tobacco companies to release damaging internal documents and later agree billions of dollars in settlements for sick smokers.
It’s unclear when the families’ attorneys will release the documents. A lawyer for the families, Joshua Koskoff, said the records were being organized for public consumption, a process expected to take weeks.
The documents include emails between employees, internal company presentations and business projections, Koskoff said. He declined to discuss the contents of the files.
“The information that may come out … there may be features of how the gun industry does business that are neither widely known nor widely appreciated,” said Timothy D. Lytton, a law professor at the Georgia State University. “It will shine a light on the industry’s role in the problem of gun violence.”
Attorneys for Remington and its insurers did not return messages seeking comment. Remington, founded in 1816 and based in Madison, North Carolina, filed for bankruptcy for a second time in 2020, and its assets were subsequently auctioned off to several other companies. Two new companies were created, Remington Firearms and Remington Ammunition.
A message seeking comment was left with Remington Firearms, which announced in November that it would be locating its headquarters in LaGrange, Georgia. A spokesperson for Remington Ammunition owner Vista Outdoor, based in Anoka, Minn., said the settlement involved the former Remington Outdoor Co., not Vista Outdoor or Remington Ammunition.
At the press conference announcing the settlement, Koskoff showed Remington ads that he said appealed to troubled youth like Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old man who carried out the Sandy Hook shootings. Lanza used a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle made by Remington which legally belonged to his mother. He killed his mother in their Newtown home before going to school.
The advertisements contained messages such as “Consider your man card reissued” and “Clear the room, cover the roof, save the hostage”.
Koskoff said Remington targets younger, at-risk men in advertising and product placement in violent video games. The lawsuit said company advertising played a role in the school shooting, but did not elaborate.
Lanza had serious and deteriorating mental health issues, which combined with his concern for his mother’s violence and access to guns “proved a recipe for mass murder”, according to a report by the children’s advocate of the Connecticut.
Starting in grade 10, Lanza’s mother kept him at home, where he was surrounded by an arsenal of guns and spent long hours playing violent video games, according to the report. His medical and school records included references to diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, although psychiatrists say those conditions are not indicative of future abuse.
Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Cortland and author of five books on gun politics, said the case would lead gunmakers to take a hard look at their marketing. Spitzer, a member of both the National Rifle Association and the Brady gun advocacy group, said his main goal is to study all aspects of the gun debate.
Spitzer said the Remington case presents a clear warning “to other gun manufacturers who make assault-style weapons to avoid pumping or emphasizing military history, the kind of qualities of the They would be crazy to continue to market these weapons with an emphasis on these values because they would obviously expose themselves to similar lawsuits.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry group that happens to be based in Newtown, said the Sandy Hook families never produced evidence that the Remington ad had any effect on Lanza. The foundation estimates that there have been more than 20 million AR-15-style rifles sold in the United States and says few are used in crimes.
According to the latest FBI crime statistics, of the 13,600 firearms used in homicides in 2020, approximately 450 were rifles; over 8,000 handguns were used.
AR-15-style rifles, however, have been used in many notable mass shootings, including Sandy Hook, the 2017 Las Vegas massacre that killed 58 and injured hundreds, and the school shooting. of 2018 in Parkland, Florida, which killed 14 students and three staff members.
Remington’s marketing of its AR-15-style rifles before the Sandy Hook shootings helped boost sales of the gun nationwide, Koskoff said. In the mid to late 2000s, he said, only about 100,000 AR-15s were sold each year in the United States. But by 2012, the number had skyrocketed to more than 2 million, he said.
He and the Sandy Hook families accused a private equity firm, Cerberus Capital Management, which bought Remington in 2007, of being more concerned with profits than safety in seeking increased sales of guns. A message seeking comment was left with the firm.
Cerberus, as owner of Remington, was responsible for shifting much of the company’s focus from traditional shotguns to AR-15 style rifles and the resulting marketing campaigns, a said Koskoff.
“They used scare tactics and toxic masculinity and seemed more powerful, and their material speaks to their target audience as military wannabes,” Hockley said. “That’s not to say this (the regulation) is going to stop gun manufacturers in any way. It’s about being responsible in your marketing.