An Indianapolis police officer’s lawsuit against the original seller of a handgun later used to wound him might have to overcome a state law in Indiana that gives gun sellers significant immunity.
The lawsuit filed Dec. 10 in a Marion County court by the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence claims KS&E Sports of Indianapolis negligently sold the handgun used to shoot Officer Dwayne Runnels in 2011.
Runnels was wounded in the leg during an exchange of gunfire in which Demetrious Martin was killed. Tarus Blackburn pleaded guilty to federal charges of illegally selling the weapon to Martin, who couldn’t legally possess a firearm because he was a convicted felon.
The lawsuit claims Blackburn accompanied Martin to KS&E Sports in October 2011, bought a gun that Martin picked out and then sold it to Martin in the store’s parking lot. The lawsuit alleges the gun shop’s workers should have known Blackburn was making a “straw purchase” for Martin.
“I’m bringing the lawsuit because I do not want criminals to get guns,” Runnels said. “I don’t want another officer or a civilian to be shot by one of these criminals, and every officer out there puts their life on the line every day that they go to work.”
A call by The Associated Press to a phone number for KS&E Sports rang unanswered. WISH-TV reports that a man at the shop who identified himself as the owner declined to comment beyond saying, “We do everything the right way.”
Carmel attorney Guy Relford, who has filed several lawsuits against restrictions on gun ownership rights, said he believed a state law preventing lawsuits against gun manufacturers or sellers over the later criminal use of the weapons would derail Runnels’ case.
“It would appear to me that the immunity statute that has been in place in Indiana since 2001 would create an insurmountable hurdle for the plaintiff to get over in this case,” Relford told The Indianapolis Star.
Jonathan Lowy, an attorney for the Brady Center, said he was confident the lawsuit would move forward.
“This case is not anti-gun. This case is not anti-gun dealer,” Lowy said. “This case is pro responsibility, pro accountability, and pro public safety.”
Runnels’ lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and order blocking KS&E Sports from selling guns “until it modifies its deficient sales, training and marketing policies governing the sale of firearms.”
The Brady Center is assisting in eight other pending “negligent gun distribution” lawsuits across the U.S., including one in northwestern Indiana’s Lake County in which Gary officials have sued 21 manufacturers and distributors, six gun dealers and three trade associations for public nuisance and liability.
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