bullets

Bullets and Benadryl

The horrific mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater during the screening of The Dark Knight Rises is not something that any of us can forget. But after that horrible tragedy that claimed the lives of 12 people and injured 70 others, America’s gun laws came under fire again–pun intended. James Holmes had “tear gas canisters, hand grenades, three different kinds of guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition,” during the attack. See Ammo dealers want Aurora massacre victim’s parents to pay their legal fees.

One family decided to go out on a limb and attempt to sue the online ammunition and body armor retailers for being negligent in selling Holmes an offensively large amount of ammo and armor in a very short period of time. The Phillipse family hired the firm of Arnold & Porter and had support from the Brady Center–a gun control advocacy group. The record showed that BulkAmmo.com sold Holmes over 4,000 rounds of ammunition; The Sportsman’s Guide sold Homes 700 rounds of ammunition and a 100-round magazine; BTP Arms sold Holmes two canisters of tear gas.

James Holmes was able to assemble a small military-grade arsenal in less than a month. He made his first purchase on May 10, 2012 and by July 2, 2012, he had finished ordering everything he needed to carry out his plan. The last of his online purchases arrived July 17, 2012. Shortly after midnight on July 20, 2012 he opened fire in a crowded theater. See James Holmes murder trial: Bullets, fire bombs and those striking eyes.

Federal and Colorado laws are very paternalistic when it comes to any companies in the business of firearms and firearm accessories. These laws, and many like them across the U.S., shield ammo and gun dealers and retailers from liability for victims of crimes perpetrated with their products. What’s worse, is that the relevant statute in this case has a statutory fee-shifting section that entitles a victorious party to a reimbursement of attorneys’ fees for defending a suit that is later dismissed under Rule 12 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure. C.R.S. section 13-21-504.5(3).

That means, if you lose, you pay. How archaic.

This was the first time that an online retailer had been sued in this way. The family’s attorney argued that the retailers were negligent because they never saw Holmes’s face or had the opportunity to assess his mental fitness in person. The Brady Center said in a statement, “A crazed, homicidal killer should not be able to amass a military arsenal, without showing his face or answering a single question, with the simple click of a mouse.” You can read the full statement here.

As an attorney, I feel obligated to say that “the law is the law.” But just because something is law does not mean it is not antithetical to public policy. I should disclose here that I am for reform in our gun laws. That’s saying something coming from a native Texan. But my knowledge on the topic is limited, so I’ll just point out an area of the law that seems ridiculous in relation to what you just read.

I take allergy medicine during the spring and I prefer Claritin (the kind you have to get from the pharmacist). Every 15 days I have to go back to the pharmacy and pick up more. And every 15 days I have to scan my driver’s license and sign the little box on the credit card machine. One time I had forgotten my allergy medication in Dallas. I wanted to buy some in Lubbock and was denied. I was purchasing too much pseudoephedrine in too short an amount of time. I’m sure you know these restriction apply because pseudoephedrine is used to make methamphetamine.

Say what? I can only buy two weeks’ worth of allergy medicine because everyone is terrified of the big bad meth man cooking in some basement down the street? I would venture a guess that meth causes far fewer deaths in the United States each year than bullets, but because some meth head can use a chemical in Claritin to make an illegal drug, it is extremely restricted.

So why is there not a limit on the number of bullets a person can buy, say every month? The number of bullets purchased is not even the part I take issue with. The issue that I have is that a person can purchase such large quantities of ammunition without ever having to scan his i.d. or sign the little box on the credit card machine. I, however, with my swollen nasal cavities and itchy eyes, am subjected bi-weekly to a systematic gathering of my personal information for the purpose of limiting my access to a component chemical of a potentially harmful drug. Just seems strange, doesn’t it?

But I digress . . .