The Brady Campaign, no doubt in an attempt to thwart their slide into utter irrelevancy at the hands of the much better funded Bloomberg effort, has filed suit against a suburban Philadelphia gun dealer. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was intended to stop lawsuits like this, but PLCAA allows exceptions for negligence, and that’s what the Brady lawyers are arguing in the case of Fox v. In Site Firearms. They are also being careful to only make state claims, which will make itÂ more difficult to remove it to federal court (where it could be more easily killed). The case against Gander Mountain in New York, for instance, theÂ defendants failed to remove the case. I believe the Bradys are intending to blow a hole in the PLCAA a mile wide and deep, probably because this is an area of activism that Bloomberg’s outfits haven’t had much to do with. The BradysÂ are demanding a standard that essentially boils down to requiring Federal Firearms Licensees be clairvoyant. Let’s take a look at their complaint:
7. In Site, acting through its owners, operators, employees and/or agents, including the individual defendants named heron, unlawfully sold the handgun used to kill Officer Fox to Michael Henry (“Henry”), a known drug addict, who acted as a “straw purchaser” for Thomas.
8. Thomas was prohibited by federal law from purchasing or possessing firearms due to a 2005 felony arrest. Thomas also was the prime suspect in the disappearance of his fiance in 1999. Despite being unable to pass a background check himself, Thomas was able to acquire the 9mm Beretta from In Site by having Henry act as a straw purchase and illegally and fraudulently complete firearm purchase paperwork required under both federal and Pennsylvania law, falsely claiming to be the actual purchaser. See Bureau of Alcohol, Tobbaco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”) Form 4473 and Pennsylvania State Police Form SP4-113.
This is a common means that criminals obtain firearms. In this case the firearm was sold unlawfully, but it’s the straw purchaser who committed the crime, along with the actual felon buyer. The dealer shares no criminal responsibility for a person who deceives the dealer about the legality of the purchase.
9. In fact, from April 10, 2012 through July 31, 2012, Henry straw purchased at least nine different guns for Thomas. Six of the guns Thomas bought through Henry were acquired from In Site. The gun used to kill Officer Fox is the only gun of the nine to have been recovered. According to authorities, the remaining guns are believed to remain in circulation in the criminal market.
Six guns in four months is hardly a high rate of gun buying, especially for a collector. If you’re a high volume business, are you going to remember someone coming in about once every three weeks to make a purchase? Is it even going to look suspicious? I know collectors who buy a lot more than this.
10. On each occasion that Henry straw purchased a gun for Thomas, In Site allowed Henry to submit and/or aided and abetted him in submitting the required Form 4473 and Form SP4-113, falsely claiming to be the actual and qualified purchaser of guns.
So filing legally required paperwork is now “aiding and abetting?” What next? Suing Buick dealers because they “aided and/or abetted” a DUI fatalityÂ by helping file for tags on a new car purchase? This is exactly what Brady is doing here. The analogy is perfect. They are doing the equivalent of suing the car dealer over a DUI fatality. Most people, I believe, agree such a thing is ridiculous. Remember, these are extremists. They are modern day Carrie Nations.
11. In Site was aware of facts and circumstances sufficient for it to have known or to have had a reasonable cause to believe that Henry was a straw purchaser and drug addict, who was not purchasing the handgun lawfully for himself but rather was profiting by making an unlawful purchase for another individual prohibited from buying a firearm.
How the hell were they supposed to know he was a drug addicts? Do drug addicts have that fact tattooed on their foreheads? Look, if the guy was coming in every couple of days and purchasing a gun in cash, I would agree they had reason to be suspicious. But six guns over four months is below that which could be reasonably expected of any retailer to notice.
The owner of In Site firearms is a retired West Norriton police officer. Does the Brady Campaign really think that a former cop is going to knowingly sell to a straw buyer knowing there’s a likelihood that illegally obtained firearm might be used against one of his fellow officers?
It’s also worth noting that Brady is not just suing the company, but the two owners personally, even given that the dealer’s wife died in 2013. Their arguments for “piercing the corporate veil” in this case are outlined in the complaint, and in my decidedly non-expert opinion very weak. They seem to focus on the fact that In Site is not the name of the company, calling it a “fictitious name,” and arguing that because the owners hold themselves as owners (it’s an LLC, they are owners), and because the entity, L & J Supply, LLC, uses their initials, this is grounds enough to reach beyond their corporation. This is patent nonsense! This gives you an idea of what scum we’re dealing with in the Brady outfit. I expect the owners should get their suit dismissed, as the proper target of the suit is their LLC and not them personally.
Later in the lawsuit, they turn NSSF guidelines against gun dealers, quoting them in the lawsuit:
“To simply have your customer fill out the required forms and undergo the criminal background check may not be enough under certain circumstances. By including a couple of questions regarding the identify of the actual purchaser in this area of presages screening, retailers can provide a valuable service to law enforcement and to their community without offending a legitimate customer.”
“An effective way to do this is to establish a store police that every potential handgun purchased will be asked the same sequence of questions. You may even want to post a sign in your store that informs the customer of this policy. The sign may read: To assist law enforcement it is our policy to go beyond the law in verifying the identity of the actual purchaser of a handgun.”
When I first got into shooting, I was in a fewÂ gun shops that have given me the third degree before they’d sell me a gun, and uniformly I’ve never done business with that shop again. Back then I didn’t have any idea about straw purchasing, and I thought the owners was treating me with suspicion because he didn’t really want to deal with newbs.
Treating your customers as potential criminals is generally not a successful business practice in retail. Most shops I’ve been to haven’t done this kind of screening, and it’s interesting that NSSF’s program is getting turned around against its own members in this suit. The Bradys would like to create a precedent that would mandate it, because it would be unwelcoming to new purchasers. I know if I had been given the third degree on my first purchase, I may have never made another one. The Brady suit goes on to describe what In Site should have known:
These red flags included but are not limited to the number and type of guns Henry purchased; that he was buying semiautomatic handguns; that he purchased multiple semiautomatic handguns; that he was the identified buyer of multiple guns on the same day; that he purchased six guns within a mere 14 weeks; that he purchased two of the same type of gun (a Colt 45) within two weeks of each other; the time frame in which he purchased multiple guns; that he paid for all of his guns with cash; as well as his drug use. In addition, upon information and belief, when In Site illegally sold Henry the six guns and Henry completed the firearms paperwork requiring him to state his address, Henry was living in a house for recovering drug addicts.
Do you know where the halfway houses are in your area? Do they publish a list of halfway houses to crosscheck against anytime someone offers a dealer an address? Does NICS do it? How the hell were they supposed to have known?
And sorry, I can’t resist, they sold him a Colt .45? Really? You couldn’t afford lawyers who perhaps knew something about guns? Colt 45 is a malt liquor beverage promoted by Billy Dee Williams. The actual name for that is the Single Action Army, which is not a semiautomatic handgun. But nit picking aside, they are demanding clairvoyance here. They are trying to achieve through lawsuit what they cannot achieve legislatively. They are trying to render PLCAA without meaning.
Let me tell you that if this works, and there’s a reasonable chance that it will, there is a very good chance gun dealers are going to become very unfriendly and unwelcoming places to first time buyers, and that’s exactly the point. It’s also worth noting that if this Brady legal strategy wins, NSSF will have played a hand in selling the Bradys the rope by which its industry will be hung.