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Families of Newtown victims sue maker and sellers of Adam Lanza's gun

Families of several Newtown, Conn., shooting victims suing gun manufacturer, distributor and seller

The families of several victims killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., have filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the gun Adam Lanza used to kill 26 people, 20 of them children, according to a law firm representing them.

The plaintiffs include the families of 29-year-old Rachel D’Avino, a behavioral therapist who had recently started working at Sandy Hook; Victoria Soto, 27, a first-grade teacher; Daniel Barden, 7, who aspired to be a firefighter and whose casket was saluted by firefighters during his funeral; and Benjamin Wheeler, 6, who couldn’t decide whether to be an architect, paleontologist or a lighthouse keeper. Natalie Hammond, a teacher who survived after being shot in the foot, leg and hand, is also one of the plaintiffs.

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FOR THE RECORD

10:43 a.m.: A previous version of this story said Lanza used the Bushmaster X-15 to kill 26 people at the school, as well as his mother, Nancy Lanza, and himself. Authorities have said Lanza used a .22 caliber rifle to shoot his mother, and turned a Glock handgun on himself after the attacks.

11:57 a.m.: A previous version of this story said Riverview Sales sold Adam Lanza the gun. Nancy Lanza, his mother, purchased the gun.

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The wrongful death suit is set to be filed Monday morning in the Bridgeport, Conn., Superior Court, according to Josh Koskoff of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, the Connecticut firm representing the families. The two-year anniversary of the shooting was on Sunday. Connecticut law generally allows a two-year window in which families can file negligence or wrongful death lawsuits.

According to the law firm, the complaint was delivered to a Connecticut state marshal Saturday.

Also named in the suit are Camfour, the distributor of the gun Lanza used, and Riverview Sales Inc., the gun shop that sold the gun to Lanza's mother, Nancy Lanza. Federal agents raided the store in 2013, just days after the shootings, and the shop later lost its federal license to sell firearms due to record-keeping violations on gun sales. Authorities have said that the gun Lanza used was purchased legally.

The 40-page lawsuit calls the Bushmaster AR-15 used in the attacks a “military weapon” that was marketed to civilians, despite “no evidence that semiautomatic rifles are … necessary for legitimate self-defense by law-abiding citizens.”

The Bushmaster X-15 that Lanza used to carry out the attack was designed for mass-casualty assaults, the suit alleges, and is “essentially indistinguishable” from the military model, the M16. The manufacturer and sellers should have known about the “unreasonably high risk” the gun would be used in a mass shooting of that kind, the suit says.

Lanza chose the X-15, the suit says, “for its military and assaultive qualities, and in particular its efficiency in inflicting mass casualties.”

Lanza’s attack on Sandy Hook Elementary lasted less than five minutes. In that time, Lanza was able to shoot at least 154 bullets from the Bushmaster, the lawsuit says. Lanza began the rampage using a .22 caliber rifle to kill his mother, and ended it by shooting himself in the head with a Glock handgun.

Michael Koskoff, also with Koskoff, Koskoff, and Bieder, says the families went through a long process of "soul-searching" before making their decision to pursue the suit. "There was a tremendous amount of healing that needed to take place. You don't want to do something when it's so fresh, you don't want to behave out of impulse," Koskoff told The Times on Monday.

Ultimately, he said, the families were united by a desire to take a stand against gun manufacturers in the hopes of preventing future incidents like Sandy Hook. "This could not have happened, it could not have been done in the way it was done, were it not for the availability of assault weapons like this," Koskoff said.

The suit also cites a litany of military-themed marketing materials Bushmaster used to push its weapons line, including an advertisement that read, “Forces of opposition, bow down.” The suit also notes Bushmaster catalogs that promoted “a rifle as mission-adaptable as you are,” and touting it as “the ultimate combat weapons system.”

Despite the military-grade firepower of the weapon, the families allege, Bushmaster, Camfour, and gun shops have promoted its use by civilians and made large-capacity magazines compatible and accessible to the general public, the suit alleges, saying it caused an “unreasonable and egregious risk of physical injury to others.”

“The risk of a mentally unstable individual gaining access to an assault rifle and unleashing its military firepower on innocent civilians is not theoretical for Bushmaster. It’s a fact,” Katie Mesner-Hage, one of the attorneys representing the families, said in a statement.

Bill Sherlach, the husband of 56-year-old Mary Sherlach, a school psychologist who was killed in the shooting, says the gun industry should be held responsible for the killings.

“These companies assume no responsibility for marketing and selling a product to the general population who are not trained to use it nor even understand the power of it,” he said in a statement released by the law firm. Sherlach added that he believes in Second Amendment rights, but also believes “the gun industry should be brought to bear the same business risk” that other industries do when selling and marketing a product.

A spokesman for Bushmaster declined to comment on the pending litigation, and phone calls to Camfour and Riverview Sales were not immediately returned.

For more breaking news, follow me @cmaiduc

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

1:18 p.m.: This story has been updated with additional comments from the families' attorney, Michael Koskoff.

12:01 p.m. This story has been updated with the response from a Bushmaster spokesman.

10:42 a.m.: This story has been updated with additional background and information from the lawsuit.

This story was originally published at 9:13 a.m.

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