Question: Does A Gun Owner Have Liability When Gun Is Stolen & Is Used In A Crime?
Answer: Pursuant to I.C. §34-30-20-1, a person is immune from civil liability based on an act or omission related to the use of a firearm or ammunition for a firearm by another person if the other person directly or indirectly obtained the firearm or ammunition for a firearm through the commission of the following: Burglary; Robbery; Theft; Receiving Stolen Property; and Criminal Conversion. See below.
While parked in a public area, Christopher Lee left his loaded handgun on the seat of his truck, leaving it unlocked and unattended. C.O., a minor, walked by and took the gun from the truck, took it home and showed it to his friend Matthew Kendall. In the process, the handgun discharged, shooting and killing Kendall. Shelley Nicholson, on behalf of her son, Kendall, sued Lee, alleging that the storage of his handgun in open view inside an unlocked and unattended vehicle was negligent and a proximate cause of Kendall’s death. Lee filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that regardless of how he stored the gun, if it was stolen, he was statutorily immune from liability for any resulting harm. The trial court granted the motion before Nicholson had a chance to respond to it, prompting her motion for reconsideration on her timely brief in opposition. The trial court denied.
On appeal, it was argued that the trial court erred in granting the motion for judgment by claiming that Lee was negligent in leaving the gun unattended and available in a public place. The court noted that it had previously found that the General Assembly intended to shield gun owners from liability for failing to safely store and keep guns, when the gun that was unsafely stored is procured by a crime and then later used to commit another crime. The court went on to hold that the defendant was immunized from liability in this case, whether the focus is on C.O.’s actions or Lee’s own failure to store his gun safely and properly.