The lawsuit of an Indiana police officer injured in a gunfight with a suspect over claims the shooter obtained his gun through alleged negligence by the store was rejected.
The Indiana Supreme Court last week in a 3-2 decision upheld a 2004 state law that a person cannot sue a firearms seller for misuse by a third party of a firearm in the case of Indianapolis police officer Dwayne Runnels vs. local gun store, KS&E Sports.
“By its plain terms, the statute immunizes a firearms seller from a damages suit for injuries caused by another person’s misuse of a firearm, regardless of whether the sale was lawful,” wrote Justice Geoffrey G. Slaughter for the majority in a 19-page opinion, with Justices Steven David and Mark Massa concurring.
In 2011, Runnels conducted a stop of a vehicle tied to an armed robbery and soon became involved in a shootout with Demetrious Martin, a felon, that left Martin dead and Runnels injured with a round to his pelvis. Martin’s gun, a Smith and Wesson .40, was recovered and traced to KS&E Sports.
A subsequent investigation found that Martin, along with his friend Tarus E. Blackburn, visited KS&E two months before the shooting and allegedly Martin selected the handgun in front of store employees for which Blackburn returned alone later that day and purchased. As part of a straw buy, Blackburn handed the gun over to Martin, who due to his criminal record was prohibited from firearm possession, in the store parking lot for $50.
Blackburn was charged and later pled guilty to one count of making a false statement in connection with the acquisition of a firearm, in violation of federal law, picking up twelve months in prison.
This brought a 2013 suit by Runnels against the gun shop, backed by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, alleging negligence by store employees. Attorneys for Runnels, citing negligent entrustment, argued that KS&E’s employees failed in their “duty to exercise reasonable care on selling firearms and to refrain from engaging in any activity that would create reasonably foreseeable risks of injury to others.”
For their part, KS&E, represented in court by Chicago attorney James Vogts with the National Shooting Sports Foundation alongside lawyer Christopher Renzulli, contended the act of a third party, Martin, was beyond the scope of their sale to Blackburn while state and federal law insulates them from damages.
Justice Robert Rucker and Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush agreed with the majority opinion in part, but did not concur that KS&E should be shielded from damages since they transferred a firearm to a prohibited possessor.
“It appears to me the statute was designed to protect innocent and unknowing gun sellers from the acts of third parties,” wrote Rucker in a dissent joined by Rush. “The legislature could not have intended to protect gun sellers from their own illegal acts.”