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Connecticut high court ruling opens up Mass gun seller to Newtown lawsuit


Despite being home to a number of firearm makers and gun sellers with whom weapons of war originate, Massachusetts isn’t often mentioned in the wake of massacres committed elsewhere. But news out of the Connecticut Supreme Court may change that. As the Wall Street Journal reported on March 14:

The gun industry suffered a potentially significant legal setback Thursday when the Connecticut Supreme Court said a leading maker of AR-15 rifles could be held legally responsible for marketing practices that allegedly made the semiautomatic gun the weapon of choice for mass shooters.

More from the Washington Post:

Gun maker Remington can be sued over how it marketed the Bushmaster rifle used to kill 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, a divided Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Justices issued a 4-3 decision that reinstated a wrongful death lawsuit and overturned a lower court ruling that the lawsuit was prohibited by a 2005 federal law that shields gun manufacturers from liability in most cases when their products are used in crimes.

The plaintiffs include a survivor and relatives of nine people killed in the massacre. They argue the AR-15-style rifle used by shooter Adam Lanza is too dangerous for the public and Remington glorified the weapon in marketing it to young people.

Remington, which denies any wrongdoing, is based in North Carolina. While the dealer that sold Lanza’s mom the rifle that her son used to kill is in Connecticut. The distributor of the AR-15, however, is the Westfield, Massachusetts,-based Camfour, Inc. As a defendant alongside Remington, the company is also touched by the high court’s decision. Connecticut Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote:

If the defendants did indeed seek to expand the market for their assault weapons through advertising campaigns that encouraged consumers to use the weapons not for legal purposes such as self-defense, hunting, collecting, or target practice, but to launch offensive assaults against their perceived enemies, then we are aware of nothing in the text or legislative history of PLCAA to indicate that Congress intended to shield the defendants from liability for the tragedy that resulted.

MassLive, whose reporters at the Springfield Republican have covered the distributor for years, reported after the decision came down:

Camfour is owned by a group of local investors led by Peter A. Picknelly, chairman and CEO of Peter Pan Bus Lines.

Picknelly declined comment Thursday as he has throughout the lawsuit.

Defendants, including Camfour, had argued that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act—known as PLCAA—protects them from liability when the guns they sell are used in crimes, according to a summary of the case included with Thursday’s decision.

The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) has covered Camfour. As we reported in a feature last year about the unchecked nature of weapon procurement by state and municipal law enforcement in Mass:

Firearm enthusiasts may know Camfour, Inc. as the giant behind EZGun, the supplier’s simple “online system for ordering and account management.” Residents of the Pioneer Valley, however, may primarily know the Westfield-based company from the noted philanthropy and influence of Peter Picknelly, a major investor behind Camfour who is also the CEO of Peter Pan Bus Lines.

Two years ago, the Springfield Republican reported that Picknelly successfully lobbied against a proposed cross-Commonwealth rail study, infuriating transit equity boosters. Like Springfield-to-Boston rail advocates, anti-gun crusaders also dislike Picknelly; though not the direct seller, Camfour distributed the Bushmaster that Adam Lanza used in his massacre at Sandy Hook in 2012.

Families of the fallen and one survivor attempted to sue Camfour and others for vending a weapon they argued has no place in a civilian setting, but a judge dismissed the case in 2016. In the time since, Bay State public agencies including the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office and MassDOT have continued to work with the Westfield contractor.

Stakeholders from the Westfield-based Camfour have contributed thousands to Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito since 2015. Picknelly family members alone have written checks for more than $20,000 combined.

As we subsequently noted, between the day that article ran in September and last year’s governor’s race, in which Baker rocked his Democratic opponent, the Picknellys gave an additional $3,750 to the incumbent’s campaign.

Despite his pocketing such contributions, the governor has been hailed as a champion for anti-gun activists, and was recently invited to speak on a panel held by WBUR and the Boston Globe called “Tackling Gun Violence.” It could be years before the Newtown case works its way up through the Supreme Court of the United States, where it is inevitably headed. In the meantime, DigBoston and BINJ will continue to report on the firearm economy in Mass and to identify the politicians, including Baker, who speak out against harm while accepting money from gun dealers and distributors.


This is an installment of a multipart collaboration on weapons use and procurement in Massachusetts by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, Emerson College’s Department of Journalism, MuckRock, and the Engagement Lab. Support for this story was made possible by the Online News Association’s Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. This project is administered by the Online News Association with support from Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, Rita Allen Foundation and the Scripps Howard Foundation. To read more about the project, please visit binjonline.org.


 

 

Curtis has contributed to publications including Deadspin, has worked extensively with MuckRock, and is a lead BINJ reporter and researcher investigating public procurement contracts.

A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.


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