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Victory for Sandy Hook families only highlights wider gun policy failure in the US

To describe the success of the families’ lawsuit as limited is not to disparage its momentousness.

By Emily Tamkin

WASHINGTON, DC — Remington, the company that made the AR-15-style gun used in the Sandy Hook mass shooting nearly a decade ago, has agreed to pay $73m to the families of nine of the 26 victims – five adults and four children.

This is newsworthy. The settlement, which comes over seven years after the families first sued, marks the first time ever that a gunmaker has been held accountable for a shooting.

As the families said, their goal was not compensation. As part of the agreement, they get to release information about, among other things, how Remington marketed the semiautomatic rifle to appeal to troubled young men such as the Sandy Hook shooter. One Remington campaign slogan read, “Consider your man card reissued”.

“My beautiful butterfly, Dylan, is gone because Remington prioritised its profit over my son’s safety. Marketing weapons of war directly to young people known to have a strong fascination with firearms is reckless and, as too many families know, deadly conduct,” Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed on that day, said in a statement. “My hope is that by facing and finally being penalised for the impact of their work, gun companies, along with the insurance and banking industries that enable them, will be forced to make their business practices safer than they have ever been.”

Perhaps gun company executives will think twice before preying on male vulnerability and toxic masculinity when marketing their products. I do not mean to downplay the fight that these families waged for the past seven years, nor to disparage or discount the history that they’ve made.

Still, there’s something sad, at least to me, about the fact that, all these years later, this is the change that’s been achieved. The families themselves fought to make this information public, and they won. In the aftermath of the shooting, though, Congress failed to pass gun control legislation.

Last December, the US president Joe Biden called on the Senate to pass legislation on background checks; legislation to keep guns away from abusers; and the Build Back Better Act, which included community violence intervention programmes. The Senate did not pass this legislation. Nearly 20,000 people have died from gun violence in the US over the past year. Fifty people were killed in a shooting in an Orlando nightclub in 2016; 59 at a music festival in Las Vegas in 2017; and 17 in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018.

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Students across America practise active shooter drills. The adults have failed to pass legislation that might prevent the school shootings from happening, so the onus is on students – on children – to prepare for what will happen if there is an attack at their school.

I credit the families who fought and won against Remington immensely. I cannot imagine what it is like to lose a family member, much less a very young child, in a school shooting, watch Congress fail to act, and take it upon myself to try to make things safer for other children and families.

Still, as brave as they were and are, and as momentous as this lawsuit is, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s a partial victory: that the lawsuit itself won’t stop more school shootings any more than active shooter drills did. The families wanted to raise awareness about gun manufacturers’ marketing. And they have.

But we knew before this week that something had to change in American policy. We knew before this lawsuit that something was broken. It’s still broken. And I don’t think, even with this settlement, that we’re really any closer to fixing it.

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