Feb 16, 2022 - Podcasts

Holding gunmakers accountable for mass shootings

Nine families who lost loved ones in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School said yesterday that they’d settled for $73 million with Remington Arms, the company that made the AR-15-style weapon the shooter used. The question now is what impact if any this settlement will have on gunmakers and future efforts to hold them accountable for mass shootings.

  • Plus, the Ukraine crisis plays out on TikTok.
  • And, how fast our seas are rising.

Guests: Professor of law at UCLA and specialist in gun policy Adam Winkler, Axios' Sara Fischer and Andrew Freedman.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Wednesday, February 16th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: a major new settlement with a gun manufacturer. Plus, how fast our seas are rising. But first, today’s One Big Thing: the Ukraine crisis plays out on TikTok.

President Biden yesterday spoke from the White House with an update on the Ukraine situation.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: Let there be no doubt. If Russia commits this breach by invading Ukraine, responsible nations around the world will not hesitate to respond.

NIALA: Russia said it’s withdrawing some troops from the Ukraine border – though Biden said yesterday the US could not yet confirm that. What we do know is that this escalating conflict has been on display in real-time for the world through videos on the social media network TikTok.

Sara Fischer is Axios’ media reporter and has been tracking all of this – hey Sara.


NIALA: Can you first explain how much of this conflict we've been seeing on TikTok?

SARA: We've been seeing a good amount, you know, there's dozens, if not hundreds of videos from locals on the ground, in Russia, in Ukraine, just documenting what they're seeing. And what's interesting about TikTok, but not just TikTok, of course, Instagram and others, is that the algorithms will elevate content from regular, everyday people. And so it used to be that you'd go online, you'd see coverage of a big war on a big media website’s front page. Now you can just see it right there in your feed.

NIALA: Sarah, how is this different from say how the Arab spring kind of elevated Twitter and the use of Twitter for activists and for people documenting it? How is this iteration different with TikTok?

SARA: Such a good question, Niala -- the Arab Spring was 10 years ago, you know, smartphone adoption wasn't nearly where it is now. You know, people didn't have the bandwidth to be uploading video in real time. Now, so much more of what we're seeing is video first. And it's also true across a lot more platforms. The Arab spring took place mostly on Twitter and Facebook. But nowadays you're seeing this type of stuff posted everywhere, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, you name it.

NIALA: And one thing that I think is also maybe a little bit different, Sarah, is how much intelligence analysts, governments, as well as journalists are using this content.

SARA: Totally. I mean the spread of open source intel across the national security community has been really important. You know, it used to be a side, but now it's central to the way that national security experts are thinking about evaluating and tracking geopolitical conflict. And that's a huge difference. Remember we've always used technology to do surveillance. It's just gotten much more sophisticated.

NIALA: What are the security risks involved with this?

SARA: Well, one of the big security risks is that, you know, the Russian military might be intentionally plotting some of these moves, knowing that those spread on social media, to mislead us and other people around the world, people in Ukraine, so that they can sort of evade our detection. Another risk is that users will blow certain clips that they're seeing online out of proportion, and that could drive them to more misinformation. We saw a lot of that last year online with the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

NIALA: Axios media reporter Sarah Fisher. Thanks as always. Sarah.

SARA: Thank you. Niala

NIALA: We’re back In 15 seconds, with what’s next after a historic $73 million settlement by a gun manufacturer with some families of Sandy Hook.

Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Nine families who lost loved ones in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School said yesterday that they’d settled for 73 million dollars with Remington Arms, the company that made the AR-15-style weapon the shooter used. 20 first graders and 6 staff were murdered.

The question now is what impact if any this settlement will have on gunmakers and future efforts to hold them accountable for mass shootings.

Adam Winkler, professor of law at UCLA and a specialist in gun policy, is here to help answer that – welcome Adam.

ADAM WINKLER: Thanks so much for having me.

NIALA: Can you first put this in context for us, people are seeing headlines saying this is a landmark settlement. How big of a deal is this?

ADAM: This is really an historic settlement. It is the first time that a major gun maker has been held liable in the event of a mass shooting. And it represents a significant victory for those people who want to see gun makers be held responsible when their guns are used in crime.

NIALA: What made a settlement like this possible?

ADAM: Well, these kinds of settlements are very rare because Congress has passed a law that provides broad immunity to gun makers for most accidents, injuries, and crimes that are committed with their firearms. But this case involved the novel legal theory that seized upon an exception built into the law that allows you to sue gun makers that violate state or federal law. And the family said here that Remington violated Connecticut state law on fair marketing practices, that they marketed their guns in a way that they expected could be used by people offensively using their firearms for combat purposes, not for self-defense. Most people thought that it had no chance of working. Obviously $73 million says something different.

NIALA: This week also marks the anniversary of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas shooting. Lots of families in Parkland, Florida have been also calling for different ways to hold gun manufacturers accountable for mass shootings. Does this settlement open up a way for this to happen?

ADAM: I do think that this settlement is going to encourage more lawsuits against gun makers when their firearms are used in mass shootings. The kinds of advertising that were used by Remington in this case were not unique to that company. And many of the gun makers have marketed these AR-15-style military assault rifles in ways that emphasize combat violence, and appeal to the same kind of hyper-masculinity that the families accused Remington of doing here.

NIALA: Adam Winkler is a professor of law at UCLA and a specialist in gun policy. Thanks Adam.

ADAM: Thank you.

NIALA: And one other note about this story: Remington filed for bankruptcy in 2020, and its assets were sold off, so its four insurers will be paying out the 73 million dollars.

One big climate headline this week: the drought in the American West is the worst in 12 centuries. But yesterday, there was another new piece of grim climate news: scientists are warning in a new report from NOAA of a profound increase in coastal flooding. So I asked Axios’ climate and energy reporter Andrew Freedman: how should we make sense of this new NOAA report?

ANDREW FREEDMAN: So we are virtually guaranteed about a foot of sea level rise by 2050. So that is equal to a century's worth of sea level rise happening in only 30 years. And it's a transformation for most coastal areas of the U.S., especially along the Gulf Coast and the East Coast, which will experience higher levels of sea level rise than other parts of the country. Because sunny day flooding events that are currently happening more frequently, are going to get even more frequent and much more damaging. So we're talking about billions of dollars in damages from these floods that'll happen even without a major storm system. But this is not apocalyptic news. In reality, we have agency over this. We can bolster coastal defenses. We can help restore coastal ecosystems that help absorb flood waters. We can move homes or raise homes if needed. But it is a major challenge for coastal communities to try to figure out how to handle much more frequent flooding events over the next couple of decades. And the other really important point is and this goes back to agency: The sea-level rise that we're going to see post 2050 is really determined by our actions now. So the emissions that are put into the atmosphere in the next 10 to 20 years will really be what determines the sea level rise, rates, and extents, going all the way out to 2150. Way, way into the future.

NIALA: Andrew Freedman reports on climate and energy for Axios.

That’s it for us today! We'd love it if you have time to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts -- it makes it easier for other people to find us.

I’m Niala Boodhoo, thanks for listening, stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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