Just ten years ago, gun sellers and makers were protected by a law passed in Congress giving the industry broad immunity from blame and misuse of its products. However, recent litigation is taking aim at the source of the weapon along with the perpetrators of gun crimes. Gun sellers across the country are under fire for what is being characterized as ‘knowingly permitting illegal gun sales’ or of being ‘grossly negligent’ when selling weapons.
In Milwaukee, a case against a gun seller that sold a pistol used to harm two police officers is underway. The case involves an 18-year-old who purchased a pistol with the help of a legal-aged acquaintance (aka a straw buyer). A store video shows the young man pointing to the gun he wants and then helping the acquaintance complete the necessary paperwork in the presence of a store employee. A month later, the young man shot two police officers with the same gun. One lost an eye and was left with brain damage; the other was seriously wounded in the face.
As a result, the city of Milwaukee and the wounded officers brought a civil lawsuit against the gun store, alleging that the clerk knew or should have know the transaction was illegal. A jury trial on the obligations of gun dealers who make questionable sales may signal a a new chapter in gun seller liability, with or without merit. If the lawsuit succeeds, it may embolden more plaintiffs to bring lawsuits and provide new momentum to a litigation campaign against gun sellers.
As for the straw buyer of the firearm, illegally purchasing guns for someone else is a federal crime and he will likely face penalties, fines and incarceration for his involvement. A straw purchaser of a firearm at a federally licensed firearm dealership who lies about the identity of the ultimate possessor of the gun can be charged with making false statements on a federal Firearms Transaction Record. Straw purchases in lawful sales made outside of federally regulated dealerships are not subject to such rules and are legal unless the gun is used in a crime with the prior knowledge of the straw purchaser.
The Criminal Defense Law Offices of Andrew C. Ladd, LLC represents clients accused of various serious crimes. We handle weapons charges along with a range of other crimes from assault and battery, homicide, vehicular homicide to disorderly conduct and intimidation. Call us today for help.
Source: The New York Times, “Trial in Wisconsin Tests Gun Store’s Judgment on Illegal Sales”, by Erik Eckholm, October 12, 2015.