Armslist asks Wisconsin court to dismiss wrongful death suit

Zina Daniel Haughton was killed by her husband with a gun he bought through ArmsList. (Photo: Journal Sentinel)

Zina Daniel Haughton was killed by her husband with a gun he bought through ArmsList. (Photo: Journal Sentinel)

Armslist asked a Milwaukee County court to dismiss a wrongful death suit filed against the gun sales website last year, six months after a federal judge agreed to the remand the case back to the state.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism first reported last month Armslist filed a motion to dismiss the case in Milwaukee County Court, arguing it can’t be held liable for the actions of the people using the site. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Nov. 1.

Last year, Yasmeen Daniel filed suit against the Oklahoma-based website, its owners, the insurance companies it contracts with on liability claims and a private Wisconsin resident who used Armslist to sell a handgun to Daniel’s stepfather, Radcliffe Haughton, in October 2012.

Just days after buying the gun from Devin Linn in a McDonalds parking lot for $500, Haughton shot and killed his estranged wife, Zina Daniel Haughton, and two other women at the salon where she worked in suburban Milwaukee. Haughton then committed suicide before police could take him into custody.

Daniel is the victim’s daughter from a previous relationship and a witness to the crime.

Federal background check laws barred Haughton from owning a firearm because of his wife’s four-year restraining order against him. Wisconsin state law, however, does not require background checks for private sales, like the one facilitated between Haughton and Linn, in the days before the murders.

The lawsuit alleges Armslist knowingly encourages illegal gun sales by allowing users to search specifically for privately-owned firearms — and it’s not the first time the site has defended itself against such liability claims, either.

Two years ago the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed Armslist not liable for the 2011 death of a Chicago woman murdered by her stalker with a .40 caliber pistol he found for sale on the website. The court order said Armslist requires users agree to “a standard terms of service,” indicating it does not become involved in any sale and places all responsibility to follow the law on the buyers themselves.

Still, Wisconsin — and Milwaukee, specifically —  is a unique environment for this particular case, says local gun rights advocate Nik Clark.

Clark is chairman and president of Wisconsin Carry. During an interview Friday, Clark said gun control groups see the state as a “place of opportunity” after a landmark court case held a Milwaukee-based firearms dealer, Badger Guns, liable for a straw purchase that resulted in the injuries of two city police officers.

The victory came as a surprise to gun rights groups since the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act has protected federally licensed firearms dealers and manufacturers from liability when their products are used in the commission of a crime.

Attorneys with the Cannon & Dunphy law firm argued, however, employees at the shop ignored several red flags with the sale and even encouraged the buyer to change an answer he provided on the background check form indicating the gun wasn’t for him.

Clark says the shop “got an unfair shake” thanks, in part, to a history of anti-gun policies in Milwaukee and misleading media reports.

“Wisconsin is a prime opportunity because the jury pool has already been poisoned,” he said. “There’s that mentality that we can hold gun sellers responsible for a crime that is eventually committed. It’s clear to me … we’ve had two lawsuits against Badger Guns. The first went to verdict and the second settled, so there’s a notion that this is a place where gun control groups can obtain victories in court because obviously, from a legislative standpoint, they’ve had no success infringing on gun rights.”

Attorneys for the Brady Campaign for Gun Violence and Cannon & Dunphy are representing Daniels in the current case, court documents show.

“This is going to chill anyone from wanting to sell a gun privately on Armslist because they won’t know what someone is going to do with that gun in five years or ten years,” Clark said. “And that’s the meta-fact. Depending on what happens with the lawsuit, people are going to say … ‘forget it, I’m just not going to use Armslist’ and I think that’s what the intention and tactic is here by the organizations funding the lawsuit.”

The Brady Campaign and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America did not return requests for comment. Everytown for Gun Safety said Friday it was not in a position to comment on the case.