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Inside the Story: Suit over 2012 shooting, suicide could change liability for gun stores

Inside the Story: The lawsuit over a 2012 shooting and suicide could change liability for gun stores when it comes to selling to unstable people (Sinclair Broadcast Group)

A ruling from earlier this summer involving a local gun shop could have ramifications when it comes to the liability of those who sell guns to unstable people.

The case involves a 2012 shooting and suicide, in which the family said they warned the gun shop she was a danger to herself and others well before she opened fire.

On July 10, 2012, Kimberly Cain sneaked into the backyard of her ex-boyfriend, Dr. Brett Menmuir, and opened fire as he sat down to dinner with his new girlfriend in an upscale neighborhood in south Reno.

The doctor survived two gunshot wounds. Cain eventually drove-off, put a gun to her chest and committed suicide.

Cain's family said they feared this would happen and warned the previous owners of the gun store, Safeshot, not to sell her a gun.

“They sold a gun to an individual that they had very clear information that she was a threat to herself and to others,” says Tom Beko, the attorney who represented Dr. Menmuir in a lawsuit against Safeshot and the previous owner, James Harwin.

According to Beko, Cain had previously pulled a gun on family members and threatened suicide because of her failed relationship with Dr. Menmuir.

The gun was taken away from her and Cain was involuntarily placed in a mental hospital for 72 hours.

During that time, Beko said, Cain's aunt went back to Safeshot, tried to return the gun and told the store manager not to sell her another one based on her mental state.

According to the aunt, the manager said he would make a note in the computer, but warned if the owner, James Harwin, was there, he would sell Cain the gun as long as she passed the background check.

“There was a real misconception, that as long as the gun dealer ran the background check and got the approval for the sale, that's all they ever had to do, and could disregard other information as long as they got approval,” Beko explained.

Safeshot's attorneys, who refused to comment on this story, tried to get the case thrown out of court based on the "protection of lawful commerce in arms act."

The 2005 law protects licensed sellers of firearms from most lawsuits when a gun buyer commits a crime.

However, Judge Patrick Flanagan ordered the case to a jury trial based on negligent entrustment doctrine, which essentially says the seller is subject to liability when the buyer is likely to use the item for physical harm to themselves or others.

Once a jury trial was ordered, Safeshot’s attorneys settled out of court.

“I think the significance of this case is, it's going to make these gun dealers take a look beyond whether they have an approval from the background check," Beko said. "If they have other information that suggests this person is going to be a threat, they better be cautious about selling this gun."

The details of the settlement were not disclosed by either party. Meanwhile, the former owner of Safeshot, James Harwin, is currently serving time in federal prison in an unrelated case involving the illegal sale of firearms to undercover agents.

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