The sale of guns can be a tricky subject from a legal standpoint. Since guns can so easily be misused and cause harm, rules concerning their sale are always controversial at best, and arguments of freedom versus safety are seemingly endless. For years, gun dealers have been protected from injury lawsuits by federal law, but a recent case in the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that, in some cases, gun dealers may be held responsible for injuries caused by their weapons.
The case involves a Missouri woman who had been previously diagnosed with schizophrenia, a disorder known for causing emotional instability and even violent episodes. Four years ago, this woman purchased a gun from a pawn shop near her house and attempted to shoot herself. Afterward, her mother warned the pawn shop of the dangers of selling another weapon to her daughter. Nevertheless, shortly afterward, the woman was able to buy a second gun from this same establishment, which she then used to kill her father and attempt to kill herself. Her mother then brought a personal injury lawsuit against the pawn shop, despite the fact that gun dealers are usually protected from liability.
What is the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and When Does It Apply?
The question of how much responsibility a gun dealer should have concerning weapons was hotly debated for years, until the passage of the Protections of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in 2005. This federal law protects sellers from being sued for damage caused by weapons purchased at their establishments. The idea is that gun dealers cannot know why a person might want to purchase a gun—and if they ask, it’s easy for a person to lie. Therefore, it isn’t reasonable to expect a gun dealer to figure out each customer’s motivations.
However, reasonableness is precisely what mattered to the Missouri Supreme Court in this recent case. While the federal law protecting dealers was upheld, the Court determined that this case is one of the exceptions to the rule because it deals with negligent entrustment. When a gun dealer has reason enough to know that the gun is going to be used violently, he or she is legally obligated to refuse to sell the weapon. If the gun is sold anyway, it could be considered negligent entrustment and the seller may be held accountable for the damages caused by that gun.
In this case, the Missouri Supreme Court took note that the pawn shop had been warned about the woman’s violent behavior, so workers may have had reason to know that she should not be sold a weapon. (Note: The pawn shop intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit.) Therefore, selling her the second gun may be found to be negligent entrustment, and the pawn shop would then not be protected by federal law. This ruling could be groundbreaking for Missouri personal injury cases. Negligent entrustment has been used as the basis of only a handful of cases, and has actually been dismissed from Missouri courts twice before.
The personal injury lawyers at Walton Telken have helped hundreds of people in Missouri and Illinois get compensation for their injuries. Call our office today to schedule a free consultation. The information provided by Walton Telken, LLC in this Blog is not intended to be legal advice, but merely provides general information related to common legal issues. This Blog, and the information contained within it, is Attorney Advertisement. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements. Past results afford no guarantee of future results. Every case is different and must be judged on its own merits.