Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
For Immediate Release: July 1, 2015
Contact: Jonathan Hutson, jhutson [at] bradymail [dot] org
Another Victory in Brady’s Campaign to Stop Bad Apple Gun Dealers
Overland Park, KS – Attorneys representing Elizabeth Shirley of Cherokee County, KS, have announced a settlement in their precedent-setting case against a Kansas gun dealer that sold a shotgun in a straw purchase, which was used by a convicted felon – Shirley’s ex-husband –that same night to kill their eight-year-old son, Zeus. The case led to landmark decisions at both levels of the appellate courts in Kansas, setting precedents which can be used to hold other gun dealers across the country responsible. The owners of the dealer, Baxter Gun & Pawn Shop in Baxter Springs, KS, have agreed to settle the case for the maximum amount available under their insurance policy, as well as a financial contribution from their personal assets.
Dan Gross, President of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, stated:
“We hope this settlement provides some sense of justice and comfort to Elizabeth Shirley. She has suffered unimaginable loss in a tragedy that could have been prevented if a gun dealer had acted more responsibly. This settlement is another major victory in Brady’s campaign to Stop Bad Apple Gun Dealers. Our message is simple: if you profit by selling guns to criminals, we will find you and hold you accountable. Let this be a warning to ‘bad apple’ gun dealers out there: act responsibly or face the consequences.”
Jonathan Lowy, Director of the Brady Center’s Legal Action Project, who argued the case before the Kansas Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, stated: “Elizabeth Shirley channeled her grief into action by holding accountable the gun dealer that irresponsibly supplied a convicted felon with the gun he used to murder their child. During nearly ten years of fighting for justice, this case has rewritten Kansas law so that ‘bad apple’ gun dealers can be held accountable for negligently putting guns in the hands of dangerous people. ‘Bad apple’ gun dealers across the country have every reason to be afraid the next time they choose to arm a criminal or straw purchaser for profit.”
Co-counsel Jim Shetlar stated:
“Nothing will bring back Elizabeth’s son, Zeus. But we hope this settlement and the precedent established in this case will bring her a measure of peace and help make Kansans safer.”
Following her son’s murder in 2003, Shirley sued Baxter Gun & Pawn in 2005. The lawsuit alleged that the dealer allowed her estranged ex-husband, Russell Graham, a convicted domestic offender prohibited from buying guns, to acquire a shotgun through a straw purchase conducted by his grandmother. According to testimony, store owners Joe and Patsy George allowed Graham to pay for a shotgun while his grandmother completed the federal purchase form, even after Graham told them he was a felon. That night, Graham shot and killed eight-year-old Zeus with the gun before turning it on himself.
In 2010, the Kansas Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s initial dismissal of the case, finding that the Georges could be liable for Zeus Graham’s death under the theory of negligent entrustment. The decision established new precedent for Kansas courts, which had never before held that a product seller could be liable for negligent entrustment, meaning that a gun dealer could be liable for shootings with guns negligently entrusted to dangerous people.
Because negligent entrustment was only one of the theories of liability in the case, Shirley appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled on July 19, 2013 that the Georges could also be liable for Zeus’s death under the theory of simple negligence and found that gun dealers must use “the highest standard of care” to avoid supplying guns to felons and other dangerous people.
Elizabeth’s case is one of several Brady Center lawsuits on behalf of victims of gun violence and their families against “bad apple” gun dealers, the small percentage of the nation’s gun sellers that supply the vast majority of guns used in crime or who have engaged in particularly egregious conduct leading to injury or death. Brady activists encourage good dealers – the vast majority of dealers – to agree to a simple Code of responsible business practices, while leading protests to pressure the “bad apples” to change their ways. Learn more about the Brady Center’s campaign against “bad apple” gun dealers at www.bradycampaign.org/stopbadapples.
The mission of the Brady organization is to create a safer America for all of us that will lead to a dramatic reduction in gun deaths and injuries. For more insight on gun violence prevention, follow us on Facebook and Twitter @BradyBuzz.