Court denies motions to dismiss claims against gun store and online dealer
PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon trial court ruled that a lawsuit can proceed against a gun store and an online gun dealer for their role in selling guns used in a crime spree, in a case that is the first of its kind in Oregon. Multnomah County Circuit Judge Michael Greenlick denied the gun sellers’ motions to dismiss a case brought by the family of Kirsten Englund, who was killed in 2013 with one of the guns. The judge ruled that a federal gun industry protection law – the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act – does not prohibit the Englunds’ case. The lawsuit now proceeds to discovery.
Kirsten Englund’s family brought a wrongful death lawsuit against two gun dealers, J&G Sales and World Pawn Exchange, which alleges that Ms. Englund’s killer obtained his guns through illegal straw purchases by his mother, and that the retailers had reason to know that the purchases were illegal. Previously, the family settled claims against the shooter’s mother.
The case has far-reaching implications for whether gun retailers nationwide can be held responsible when guns sold illegally are subsequently used to commit crimes. The Court held that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act does not prohibit lawsuits against gun dealers if a plaintiff sufficiently alleges that a gun dealer knowingly aided and abetted a straw purchase. The Court noted that “straw-purchase arrangements” are “inherent[ly] dangerous” because they are “[a] common method of bypassing [ ] background checks” and “[t]he fundamental purpose of background checks is to prevent firearms from coming into the possession of people that Congress determined are dangerous for one reason or another.”
“My mother was murdered by a man who should never have been able to get his hands on a firearm,” said Andrew Wiegardt, one of Kirsten’s Englund’s two sons. “As a responsible hunter and a gun-owner, I believe that firearm dealers have a responsibility to prevent the transfer of guns which fuel criminal violence, and they must be held accountable for careless behavior. We hope this case will make sure that no other family has to go through what we have.”
“No one should be above the fundamental law that requires all of us to act with reasonable care, especially not businesses who sell lethal firearms to the public,” said Jonathan Lowy, Director of the Brady Center’s Legal Action Project who argued the motions for the Englund family along with co-counsel Ray Sarola of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll and Alla Lefkowitz of the Brady Center. “We’re glad that Kirsten’s family will have its day in court, and we look forward to proving their case before a jury.”
“As the complaint lays out, two firearms dealers sold semi-automatic weapons without taking reasonable care to ensure they were not being obtained by a straw purchaser,” said Ray Sarola of Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll, which is representing the Englund family along with the Brady Center, Thomas D’Amore of the D’Amore Law Group in Portland, Oregon and Nick Kahl, LLC of Portland, Oregon. “The complaint alleges that if these gun sellers followed the law, these firearms would not have found their way to the man who murdered Kirsten Englund.”
Kirsten Englund was killed on the morning of April 28, 2013, after she pulled off Highway 101 to a scenic overlook in Douglas County, Oregon in order to view a nearby lighthouse. She was on the way to visit her son in Eugene. The shooter happened to be in the area, armed with a number of weapons. From Oregon, the shooter drove to northern California, where he carjacked two other people before being arrested. While in jail awaiting prosecution for the murder and carjackings, the shooter committed suicide.
The family’s lawsuit against the gun dealers alleges that in 2012, the shooter’s mother acted as a straw purchaser to obtain for him a Makarov 9mm pistol and a Rock Island semi-automatic pistol. J&G Sales, an online gun retailer in Arizona, sold the two pistols, which were then shipped to World Pawn in North Bend, Oregon for pickup. The lawsuit alleges that J&G and World Pawn negligently sold the guns despite indicators that they were illegal straw sales.
The Brady Center has successfully brought numerous lawsuits holding gun companies accountable for their contribution to gun deaths and injuries, and have pending lawsuits in courts across the country.
The Englund family’s case against the gun retailers was filed in the Multnomah County Circuit Court. The trial court’s decision can be found here.