AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Federal law protects gun manufacturers and gun stores from being sued because a gun they sold lawfully, and in good faith, is used in a crime. It’s something some judges would do well to remember.
However, they can be sued legally under specific circumstances. In particular, when there’s negligence somewhere along the line. That’s what happened regarding one pawn shop.
The families of several people who were killed or wounded in a 2016 mass shooting near Wichita, Kansas, have reached a multimillion-dollar settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the pawn store that sold some of the guns used in the attack.
The lawsuit alleged that local retailer A Pawn Shop sold the guns to a woman as part of a straw purchase, which occurs when one person buys a gun on behalf of someone else, circumventing background checks and federal law.
Gun makers and retailers typically can’t be sued when crimes are committed with weapons they produce thanks to a 2005 federal law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which shields them from civil liability.
Gun stores and pawn shops can be sued for negligence, however, if they sell to a person they know — or should know — is likely to use the weapon illegally.
In the Kansas case, Sarah Jo Hopkins, the mother of the shooter’s children, repeatedly used the man’s credit card to pawn guns. [Tom’s note: I’m assuming they meant to buy guns. You typically don’t need a credit card to actually pawn a gun, but I suspect the writer doesn’t know what that verb actually means.]
“That should have been a red flag that she was not the intended user or purchaser of the gun,” said David Morantz, a Kansas City, Missouri, attorney who represented one of the plaintiffs.
The pawn shop is already out of business, so it’s the insurance company footing the bill on this one.
Still, it’s something gun stores need to be on the lookout for. It doesn’t sound like this was a particularly clever straw buy scheme, either. It’s not like a cash transaction where there’s little reason to doubt the buyer is the actual buyer.
This is being touted as a warning to gun stores, but it’s not. Not really.
You see, it’s hard to warn people not to do something when they don’t do it. The number of stores that willfully ignore the law is extremely low. There’s a reason those that do make headlines. While I suspect most have sold to straw buyers at some point in time, they haven’t done so knowingly. It’s impossible to stop straw buyers who use their brains.
In other words, while straw buyers are an issue, they’re not as stupid as this one was. Most would see that, tell the customer they can’t process that card, and call it a day.
That’s because most gun stores value their ability to sell guns. They know the ATF is looking for any reason it can manufacture to shut them down, so they trip over themselves trying to make sure they do it right. They don’t want to find out a gun they sold was used in a crime, but they really don’t want to find out that they screwed up and allowed that to happen.
So no, it’s not a warning to gun stores. They didn’t need one.