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Is the AR-15 manufacturer responsible for the Sandy Hook tragedy? A judge will decide

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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Adam Lanza pulled the trigger that killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School three years ago. That is not in dispute.  What is is whether or not the manufacturer of the gun he used in the massacre is responsible for it.  In a courtroom here Monday afternoon, Sandy Hook victims' families faced off against Remington, the company that manufactured Lanza's AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

Nine Sandy Hook family members filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Remington, and in court Monday, their lawyers tried to convince Fairfield District Supreme Court judge Barbara N. Bellis that their case is worth proceeding to trial.

"[Lanza] chose the AR-15 because he was aware of how many shots it could get out," said Nicole Hockley, who lost her son Dylan on that fateful morning December 14, 2012.  She said at a pre-hearing news conference that Lanza selected the AR-15 because it would kill "as many people possible in the shortest time possible."

She and the other family members say that Remington, which made the Bushmaster AR-15 that Lanza had used, is responsible in large part because of the way the gunmaker  markets the weapon.

"What the marketing aspect is," said Johsua Koskoff, the families' lawyer, is that "Remington [is] far from curbing" use of their semiautomatic rifle.  "They egg civilians on with it," he said.

He cited Bushmaster ads that specifically target young men with slogans like "Consider Your Man Card Reissued."

Koskoff also pointed out that the Bushmaster AR-15 is specifically promoted by the gun manufacturer in video games like Call of Duty, and that accurate methods of loading and using the gun are even depicted in the game, which Lanza had played.

The families brought those points before Judge Bellis, but lawyers for the gun manufacturer, as well as attorneys for the gun's distributor and seller argued that the case be thrown out.

"Their argument," said Remington's lawyer, Jim Vogts, in court, "is wrong and immaterial. "

"The issue is PLCAA," he said, referring to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.  It's a federal law, passed in 2005, that bans virtually all legal actions against gun manufacturers.

The Sandy Hook families argued that in their case, the federal protection of the gun manufacturer is wrong.  In fact, their attorneys said, the way that Remington marketed the AR-15 to young, isolated men like Lanza constitutes "negligent entrustment," or an act of knowingly giving a dangerous weapon to a person who's likely to use it hazardously.

Remington is "able to do what they want," said Bill Sherlach, whose wife, the Sandy Hook Elementary school psychologist, was killed while protecting students.

He said he wanted the case to go forward so that lawyers can "peel back the onion" and see in detail what methods Remington has used to encourage use of its weapons.

He compared his legal case with those against cigarette manufacturers 30 or more years ago.  Those lawsuits eventually led to disclosures of how tobacco products were manufactured and marketed to promote addiction.

"Let's take a look at what you have been doing," Sherlach said about Remington.

Judge Bellis will now weigh whether or not the case can proceed to a discovery phase and then on to trial.  She can also choose to dismiss the lawsuit.

She is expected to issue a ruling any time between March 1st and Memorial Day, although she said in court that her ruling could come before a status conference that's scheduled for April 19th.