Guns and Children Don't Mix

Posted on Mar 31, 2014

Here is the post: Teenage boy gets shot after friend buys gun

Can a retail store be held liable for the shooting of a teenage boy if the store sold a handgun to the mother of a friend of the boy?

This case involves a fifteen-year-old boy who went to a hardware store with his mother to buy a handgun. The boy’s mother accompanied him to the hardware store and a salesperson handed him a pistol which he showed to his mother. The boy indicated to the salesperson that he and his mother would purchase the pistol. The salesperson assisted the boy’s mother in completing a federal firearms form and the boy’s mother carried the pistol to the checkout stand. The boy’s mother paid cash for the pistol and carried it out of the store. The boy was familiar with the use of firearms because he had taken a hunter’s safety course. Three days later, a fourteen-year-old friend of the boy and two other boys were visiting in the boy’s home.  The boy did not tell his friends that he had secretly loaded the gun. When his friend pulled the trigger, the pistol dry fired twice. When the boy’s friend pulled the trigger a third time, the gun discharged and struck the boy’s friend in the head. The bullet passed through the boy’s brain and left him permanently and totally disabled for life.

Answer: “The main doctrine that applies in this case is called “negligent entrustment.” This doctrine may allow a retail store to be held liable for negligence that injures someone when the store sells an item and the store knew or should have known that the item might be used by the customer (or a relative of the customer) in an unreasonable way. In cases where a foreseeable, unreasonable risk of harm exists, the courts in many states hold that the doctrine of negligent entrustment may apply. In cases involving handguns, most states hold that since these are very dangerous weapons, the standard of the highest care applies. This means that a retailer must generally show the highest standard of care in selling handguns to customers, especially if teenagers are involved. Even though the boy’s mother purchased the gun for him in this case, the store was required to show the highest standard of care. This means that the store was probably negligent in selling the gun because the salesperson should have known that they were entrusting a dangerous handgun to a teenage boy. The salesperson in this case probably should have known that the teenage boy might act recklessly with the gun and might injure someone. Since the salesperson knowingly sold the gun to the boy’s mother and might have known that the boy intended to use the gun, the store was probably negligent in this case.”

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Steve Lombardi
Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death