In December of 2014, after an AR-15 assault rifle was used to carry out the mass killing of 26 people, including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a landmark lawsuit was filed by the Connecticut law firm of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder (“KKB”) to hold the company that made and marketed the AR-15 weapon used in that massacre accountable.
Legal experts initially called the wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of nine of the victims and their families a “losing proposition”, largely due to a 2005 law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”), which provides firearm manufacturers with vast immunity from liability. However, KKB, led by partner and lead counsel Josh Koskoff, recognized that there were narrow exceptions to the immunity provided by the Act, including a company violating laws surrounding the sale or marketing of its product.
During the lawsuit, KKB uncovered thousands of internal documents and conducted multiple depositions of the leadership and marketing of Remington, the manufacturer of the AR-15, which revealed that in order to boost profits and sales, Remington adopted an aggressive, multi-media campaign that pushed sales of AR-15’s towards young violence prone men and touted the AR-15’s effectiveness as a killing machine. The case alleged that Remington’s aggressive and violence-glorifying marketing campaign of the AR-15 was an unfair trade practice in violation of Connecticut law. The case, known as Soto et. al. v. Bushmaster Firearms International, made its way to the Connecticut Supreme Court, which held that Remington’s marketing practices related to its AR-15 fit within the exceptions to PLCAA and was allowed to proceed. Remington and its insurers ultimately agreed to settle with the victims’ families for $73 Million.
The innovative approach and efforts led by Josh Koskoff and KKB not only resulted in the first and only successful prosecution of a firearm manufacturer for its tactics in enabling mass killings, but it created a legal precedent that paves the way for other victims of mass killings to hold firearm manufacturers accountable for their conduct. KKB’s years of litigation against Remington have also provided them with extensive documentation and knowledge of the firearm’s industry’s aggressive and deceptive marketing campaigns which recklessly market their weapons of war directly to young people known to have a strong fascination with firearms and mass killings.
In an all too familiar scene, on July 4, 2022 in Highland Park, Illinois, another mass killing was carried out using another AR-15 style assault weapon, this time a SMITH & WESSON® M&P® 15, firing at least 83 shots into a crowd of parade goers within approximately 60 seconds in Highland Park, Illinois, resulting in the death of 7 individuals and serious physical and emotional injuries to countless others. Among the victims of the attack was Eduardo Uvaldo, who was shot in the arm and head and ultimately died from his injuries. His wife Maria was also shot, along with their 13 year old grandson.
Recognizing the unique expertise of Josh Koskoff and KKB as the national leader in taking on the firearm industry for its aggressive and deceptive marketing of assault rifles as killing machines, the Uvaldo family hired KKB to hold SMITH & WESSON® accountable for its aggressive and deceptive marketing and glorifying of the M&P® 15 aimed at young violent prone men in violation of the law, just as KKB had successfully done with Remington.
KKB and the Uvaldo family have also joined forces with the Chicago-based law firm, Rapoport Weisberg & Sims, P.C., which has a long and successful history of prosecuting manufacturers of unreasonably dangerous products. Together, they stand ready to prove that SMITH & WESSON® violated the Illinois Deceptive Business Practices Act (815 ILCS 505/2) in the marketing of the SMITH & WESSON® M&P® 15 and engaged in negligent, willful, and wanton conduct that was a proximate cause of the Highland Park mass shooting.
The SMITH & WESSON® M&P® 15 assault weapon, like the AR-15, is a highly lethal weapon, specifically engineered to deliver maximum carnage with extreme efficiency. In fact, the unique features found in the SMITH & WESSON® M&P® 15 assault weapon and similar derivations of the AR-15 have led to it being ordained the “weapon of choice for mass shootings.” Meanwhile, SMITH & WESSON® has built a billion dollar a year business by selling as many of these assault rifles as possible. To achieve those record setting sales, SMITH & WESSON® deployed a sophisticated marketing campaign, designed to target and capitalize on sales of assault rifles to individuals it knew would be prone to use this weapon to carry out mass shootings.
For instance, SMITH & WESSON® has consistently, and deceptively advertised the M&P® 15 assault weapon to imply that these rifles are used or endorsed by the U.S. military and police. This strategy, known as “the halo effect”, was openly acknowledged by its former CEO James Debney.
Indeed, the M&P® in the name of the firearm stands for Military and Police. And it was less than a year after the federal assault rifle ban expired on September 13, 2004 and in anticipation of soon thereafter entering the assault rifle market that SMITH & WESSON® submitted the below image for trademarking on July 25, 2005 to the United States Patent & Trademark Office, highlighting the organization’s deceptive and false claims that it was affiliated with the U.S. military and police:
Contrary to its decidedly deceptive public representations, the SMITH & WESSON® M&P line of assault weapons was never designed specifically for military and law enforcement, but was primarily designed and marketed with the intent to sell these weapons nearly exclusively to civilians. Indeed, the stark reality is that none of the SMITH & WESSON® AR-15 style rifles are sold to or utilized by the U.S. military. Rather, SMITH & WESSON® has deliberately deployed marketing employees and consultants to exploit, adolescents’ and young adults’ susceptibility to product advertising including targeting these individuals through social media.
The net result was overall increased sales by targeting a demographic most likely to perpetuate mass shootings. And because mass shootings have consistently led to more assault rifle sales, the end result is a self-perpetuating mass-shooting monster that grows with more violence.
For example, SMITH & WESSON® intentionally created advertisements that deliberately mimicked the first-person shooter aesthetic of popular video games like Call of Duty. First-person shooter games typically involve players, like the Shooter, shooting at targets—often human targets.
The type of marketing utilized by SMITH & WESSON® violates Illinois law – the same way that Josh Koskoff and KKB’s lawsuit showed the marketing of the AR-15 violated Connecticut law after the Sandy Hook mass shooting. Accordingly, KKB and Rapoport Weisberg & Sims intend to hold SMITH & WESSON® accountable on behalf of the Uvaldo family and other victims of the Highland Park mass shooting.
More information about KKB’s successful prosecution in the Sandy Hook litigation can be found at the firm’s website, at Sandy Hook Families Achieve Historic Victory Holding Gunmaker Accountable For Role In School Massacre (koskoff.com).
The Highland Park litigation against SMITH & WESSON® has received significant media coverage, some examples of which are below:
- The Associated Press (AP) Smith & Wesson sued over link to July 4 parade mass shooting | AP News
- Reuters: Highland Park mass shooting victims’ new lawsuits build on Sandy Hook legal theory | Reuters
- The Chicago Tribune:Highland Park victims file lawsuits against alleged shooter, his father (chicagotribune.com)
A press conference was held on September 28, 2022, at which Matthew Sims, a Partner at Rapoport Weisberg & Sims, P.C., spoke about the litigation.
According to Mr. Sims, “Smith and Wesson has built a billion dollar a year business by selling as many assault rifles as possible. To achieve those record setting sales, Smith and Wesson deployed a sophisticated marketing campaign, designed to target and capitalize on sales of assault rifles to individuals it knew would be prone to use this weapon to carry out mass shootings. Indeed, we believe its trademarked “M&P” assault rifles – which stands for Military & Police- was not intended at all to target “Military” or “Police.” Rather, it was designed to target sales to exactly the civilian audience most likely to engage in violent and criminal behavior. And when mass shootings happen, gun sales go up. The reality is that these weapons are directly based on the AR-15, a weapon purposely designed for use by the United States military to inflict as much carnage as possible in combat operations. We believe that Smith and Wesson’s marketing violated Illinois law by promoting and encouraging violent criminal behavior. After all, it has figured out that mass shootings increase assault rifle sales. But when companies break the law, and that unlawful conduct causes harm, they should be held to account.”