Being constantly aware of surrounding dangers, from even the most…

Being constantly aware of surrounding dangers, from even the most seemingly innocuous sources, is a must for the vigilant gun owner/enthusiast. Being mentally prepared for this can mean the difference between safety and disaster. DoD Photo

Many years ago, a young woman walked into a big-box store and proceeded directly to the gun department in the sporting goods section. As she examined an inexpensive .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol, it became clear to observers that she was emotionally distraught. At one point, she wept and said she shouldn’t buy the handgun. The clerk was trained to sell, however. Soon she was filling out a 4473 form. A matter of hours later, she was dead by her own hand. The newly purchased .25, now in evidentiary parlance a “death weapon,” lay beside her.

The young woman’s devastated family sued the store and the corporation that owned it. Investigation showed that the clerk had not checked her ID properly. She turned out to be 19 years of age, too young to legally purchase a handgun. Beyond that, the corporation’s defense lawyers realized how it was going to look in court when the jury learned that their employee had ignored her crying and emotional outburst, and still “hard-sold” her the gun she used to end her own life. The corporation ended up settling out of court for a huge amount of money, an amount that probably would have bankrupted any privately owned gun shop. The chain also made the decision to stop selling handguns, a policy that endures with that company to this day.

Consider it Case One. When people die, those who survive them often want money for it. Sometimes, if they feel the death was your fault, they’ll often want revenge in criminal court as well as civil.

In Case Two, the person with the death wish entered a shooting range that offered guns for rent. He showed his ID and complied with all necessary protocols. He had a clean record and gave no indication of being anything other that a person who wanted to try a different gun on the range that night. He laid down his credit card for the rental, ammunition and targets. He then walked onto the range, loaded the gun, and killed himself. His heirs filed a lawsuit against the gun range that is still pending.

Contrast these two incidents. I don’t see where the plaintiffs have any case against the shooting range that rented the gun in the second instance. No reasonable, prudent person could have concluded from the man’s behavior that he was suicidal. The first case, of course, is something else entirely. Quite apart from the illegal sale of a handgun to a person under 21, furnishing a lethal weapon to someone who is emotionally distraught, in tears, and admitting that she doesn’t think she should have a gun, fits most any ordinary, logical person’s definition of culpable negligence.

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