Indiana High Court Rules Gun Seller Can’t be Sued by Wounded Officer

April 27, 2017

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that a wounded police officer can’t sue a sporting goods store that sold a handgun that was later used to shoot him.

The Indianapolis Star reported the court on Monday dismissed Indianapolis Officer Dwayne Runnels’ lawsuit claiming damages against Indianapolis-based KS&E Sports and the store’s owner.

Indiana law gives gun sellers significant immunity, with a section stating a person cannot bring a suit against a gun or ammunition manufacturer, trade association or seller for damages resulting from criminal use of the gun by a third party.

The lawsuit was filed after Runnels was wounded in a 2011 traffic stop shootout during which Demetrious Martin was killed. The lawsuit argues KS&E Sports improperly sold the gun to a man who then illegally sold it to Martin, who as a convicted felon is barred from possessing firearms. It also claims the shop was a public nuisance.

Though the court dismissed Runnels’ damage claims, it did uphold his claim of public nuisance. This allowed Runnels to request an order enjoining or abating the nuisance until the store modifies its sales, training and marketing policies and retrains employees “to reasonably and adequately minimize the risk that criminal(s), juveniles and other prohibited and/or dangerous persons will obtain firearms from KS&E.”

The Indiana Supreme Court also disagreed with Runnels’ claims that the gun shop immunity law is unconstitutional, allowing for unequal privileges and violating due process.

“The legislature’s policies, so long as they are constitutional, are beyond our purview,” Indiana Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Slaughter wrote in the opinion. “We neither applaud the wisdom of such choices nor condemn their folly. We simply assess their legality.”

The state appeals court sided last year with Runnels’ argument that the store didn’t exercise reasonable care in selling the gun.

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