Indiana gun shop lawsuit by wounded cop heard by state's high court

The lawsuit against KS&E Guns centers on the straw purchase of a Smith & Wesson .40 in 2011 that was used in the shooting of an Indianapolis police officer. (Photo: WTHR)

The lawsuit against KS&E Sports centers on the straw purchase of a Smith & Wesson .40 in 2011 that was used in the shooting of an Indianapolis police officer. (Photo: WTHR)

A lawsuit against Indiana gun store KS&E Sports hit another road block as lawyers for the shop appeared before Indiana’s Supreme Court requesting a dismissal.

The lawsuit has weaved its way through local trial courts then on to the state’s Court of Appeals where a 2-1 ruling found enough meat in the case to proceed. It was sent into pre-trial discovery in March, but has once again jumped track as lawyers for the gun store elevated their argument for dismissal to Indiana’s highest court.

At the center of the suit is the question of whether KS&E Sports holds some responsibility for a straw purchase that led to the shooting of an Indianapolis police officer. In 2011, Officer Dwayne Runnels and convicted felon Demetrious Martin engaged in a gun fight during a traffic stop. Runnels took a hit to the hip while Martin died from wounds sustained during the exchange. Recovered at the scene was a Smith & Wesson .40. The firearm was later traced back to KS&E Sports.

Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the gun store had sold the Smith & Wesson to Martin’s friend Tarus Blackburn who had accompanied the felon on a shopping trip two months prior. During that trip, Martin picked out the firearm in front of KS&E employees for which Blackburn returned later to purchase. Martin bought the .40-caliber gun off Blackburn in the store’s parking lot.

Chicago attorney James Vogts with the National Shooting Sports Foundation alongside lawyer Christopher Renzulli argued before state Supreme Court justices that KS&E should not be held liable for the shooting, despite the fact employees knew Blackburn was making a straw purchase.

Vogt and Renzulli pointed to a 2004 statute that exempts gunmakers and sellers from responsibility if a firearm they sold is later used in a criminal manner.

“The General Assembly made that decision. It drew that bright line because it wanted to reach that legislative goal,” said Vogts during oral arguments.

Renzulli argued that because the statute doesn’t explicitly rule out illegal actions, KS&E falls under the protection of the code.

“The plain language of the statute requires immediate dismissal of this case,” Renzulli told the justices.

Runnels attorney, Jonathan Lowy of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, pushed back arguing that KS&E’s interpretation would overturn 130 years of precedent and disparage common law.

“This law is totally out of step with the over 350 community laws in Indiana. There’s nothing like it. Even ‘good Samaritans’ don’t get immunity if they engage in gross negligence,” Lowy told local news station WTHR.

Bolstering Lowy’s argument was a brief authored by attorney Shana Levinson with the support of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the City of Gary.

Written in 2015, the paper maintains that firearms in the hands of felons kill more police officers than any other demographic.

“Indeed, firearms purchased from legal sources, like firearm dealers, kill more police officers than any category of firearms,” Levinson wrote before blatantly pointing the finger at KS&E for the shooting. “By selling the firearm to Martin and Blackburn in an illicit straw sale, black letter law dictates that KS&E may as well have pulled the trigger.”

According to the Brady Campaign, KS&E Sports is one of the “top sellers of guns used in crime.” The group cites statistics from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that show the store sold 529 guns between 1996 and 2000 that were used in crimes.

Justices Rush, Rucker, David, Massa and Slaughter heard the case, but no timeline has been released regarding when they will offer a ruling on the matter.

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