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Settlement Reached in Negligence Case Involving Kansas Gun Store

— April 18, 2019

A multi-million dollar settlement was recently reached between the victims of a February 2016 workplace shooting and a pawn shop.

A wrongful death lawsuit was recently settled against A Pawn Shop near Wichita, Kansas by the families of those killed or wounded during a 2016 mass shooting. Why was the lawsuit filed in the first place? Well, according to the families, the suit alleged the pawn shop “sold some of the guns used in the attack” as part of a straw purchase. A straw purchase is when “one person buys a gun on behalf of someone else, circumventing background checks and federal law.”

The guns used in the February 2016 attack at a Hesston, Kansas workplace included a handgun and AK-47 rifle. During the attack, “three people were killed and 14 others were wounded.

Sign for a gun shop
Sign for a gun shop; image courtesy of PublicCo via Pixabay,

It should be noted that “gun makers and retailers typically can’t be sued when crimes are committed with weapons they produce thanks to a 2005 federal law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which shields them from civil liability.” However, “gun stores and pawn shops can be sued for negligence…if they sell to a person they know — or should know — is likely to use the weapon illegally.

The lawsuit argues the pawn shop should have noticed a red flag when the woman who bought the guns, Sarah Jo Hopkins, had a history of using the shooter’s “credit card to pawn guns.” Hopkins was the mother of the shooter’s children, according to the suit. David Morantz, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said “That should have been a red flag that she was not the intended user or purchaser of the gun.”

As part of the settlement agreement, the pawn shop’s insurer agreed to pay $2 million to the widow of Joshua Higbee, one of the victims who died in the attack, and the “family of another victim who was killed and three victims who survived.” Morantz said:

“A settlement like this should put those gun dealers on notice that they need to operate correctly. They need to adhere to the law and they need to help prevent straw purchases.”

Jonathan Lowy, the leader of the Legal Action Project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, assisted with the suit and noted “most gun dealers are responsible business owners.” He added:

“But like in every business, there are some bad apples. And unfortunately, in the gun industry, those bad apples are ones that have control of an arsenal of lethal weapons.”

Lowry has been fighting the gun industry for more than 20 years on behalf of victims of gun violence and said courts all over the country are “becoming more receptive to lawsuits filed against gun sellers.” He also noted that some “gun control groups are using the courts to test federal and state laws” and added:

“Red States and blue states, trial courts, appellate courts and state supreme courts (are) all recognizing that gun dealers can and should be held accountable when they act irresponsibly.”

For example, just last month the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that a suit filed against Remington Arms by a handful of Sandy Hook Elementary School victims could proceed, “despite PLCAA, the law meant to prohibit such lawsuits.”


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