Gun Sale to Felon May Leave Pawn Shop Liable

     (CN) – A Kansas pawn shop may be liable for selling a shotgun to a felon who used it to kill his son and then himself, the state Supreme Court ruled.
     Russell Graham could not buy firearms because of prior felony convictions for attempted rape and attempted kidnapping. In August 2003, Elizabeth Shirley, the mother of his second child, received a protection-from-abuse order against Graham. Shirley had long endured violence from Graham, who had beat her with his fists and a baseball bat in the past, but the incident that led her to seek police protection involved his threat to kill her; their son, Zeus Graham; and his older boy.
     Shirley still brought Zeus to visit with his father, however, even though the Graham made another threat against the boy’s life and tried to suffocate him with a pillow.
     A couple of weeks later, Graham had his grandmother Imogene Glass accompany him to a pawn shop to buy a gun.
     The night of the purchase, Graham had custody of 8-year-old Zeus. He called Shirley and told her that if she did not come to his house to have a talk, he would kill the child, and that he would kill himself either way.
     Instead of waiting for Graham’s arrival, Russell shot and killed Zeus, and then shot and killed himself.
     Glass, the grandmother, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease soon after. She purportedly had known, however, of her grandson’s criminal past and his temper, as well as the fact that he was legally barred from owning a firearm.
     Graham allegedly promised Glass that the gun was for the boys to practice hunting with their friends, and that it would remain in her home.
     Shirley filed a negligence complaint against Baxter Springs Gun & Pawn Shop and its owners, Joe and Patsy George.
     A Cherokee County judge granted the defendants summary judgment, but an appellate panel revived Shirley’s claim for negligent entrustment.
     On Friday, the Kansas Supreme Court found that Shirley must also be given a chance to show that the pawn brokers owed her a duty of care and breached that duty.
     The court’s description of the fateful gun transaction notes that Graham had called the shop ahead and spoken to Patsy George about buying the gun for his child.
     Russell also allegedly picked out the gun in the shop, paid for it with cash and left the shop with it in his hands.
     Glass said her grandson had told Joe George of his prior felony conviction, though Joe denies that this conversation occurred. The shop owner ran the background check on Glass, who filled out paperwork in which she acknowledged that purchasing a weapon for a third-party is a felony.
     Glass said had not a read the papers because she did not consider herself the actual buyer.
     “It is sensible to conclude that the Kansas statute prohibiting the sale of firearms to certain convicted felons is intended to protect the citizens of this state from violent crimes committed by those felons,” Judge Eric Rosen wrote for the court.
     “We see no need to back away from or limit our previous holdings that those in possession of firearms should exercise the highest standard of care in deterring the possession of those firearms by those who are at special risk to misuse the weapons,” he added. “The legislature has determined that certain convicted felons fall within that special-risk group, and a firearms dealer must exercise the highest standard of care in order to avoid selling guns to such felons.”

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