With victories in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals of Kansas, the Brady Center helped change the law in Kansas to hold bad apple gun dealers accountable for contributing to gun violence, won compensation for a mother who lost her son, and sent a powerful message to gun dealers who choose to profit off of criminals.
On September 5, 2003, convicted felon Russell Graham shot and killed his 8-year-old son Zeus and then took his own life with a gun he obtained in a straw purchase. Earlier that day, the owners of local gun dealer Baxter Gun & Pawn in Baxter Springs, KS, Joe and Patsy George, showed Graham a shotgun he had called about. According to testimony in the case, after Graham told the Georges that he was a felon, the Georges allowed his grandmother to fill out purchase forms and conduct the background check for the gun which Graham selected, then paid for.
That night, Graham called his ex-wife Elizabeth Shirley, told her about the straw purchase, and said that he would kill their son unless she came to his house. By the time Shirley had called for help and called Graham back, he had already killed their son and himself with the gun straw purchased from the Georges. Visited by police the next day and asked about the gun sale, the Georges falsely claimed that Glass had paid for the shotgun with a check, which they were unable to produce. They also told officials that their VCR had malfunctioned and destroyed the tape with surveillance video of the sale, and that they had discarded the ruined tape.
Elizabeth Shirley filed suit against Glass and the Georges on August 3, 2005 alleging that they were liable for her son’s death, which she argued was a foreseeable result of knowingly selling a gun to a felon. After the trial court dismissed the case, Shirley sought the help of Brady’s Legal Action Project. LAP Director Jon Lowy argued Shirley’s case before the Kansas Court of Appeals, which unanimously reversed the trial court’s dismissal and found that the Georges could be liable for Zeus Graham’s death under the theory of negligent entrustment. The decision established a new precedent for Kansas courts, which had never before found that a seller of a product could be liable for negligent entrustment, and that a gun dealer could be liable for shootings resulting from the negligent entrustment of firearms to dangerous people.
Although the appeals court decision created a path to trial, the Brady Center appealed the dismissal of Shirley’s negligence claim to the Supreme Court of Kansas. On July 19, 2013 the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Shirley’s favor, finding that the Georges could be liable for Zeus’ death under this theory, and ruling that gun dealers must use “the highest standard of care” to avoid selling guns to felons and dangerous people. The ruling set a strong and expansive precedent on gun dealer responsibility in Kansas.
In June 2015, the Georges settled the case, agreeing to pay Shirley the maximum their insurance policy would allow in addition to a contribution from their personal assets. After their firsthand experience showing the dangers of guns in the hands of felons, they have also pledged to take precautions to prevent selling firearms to dangerous people.