The Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms is one of the oldest and core liberties contained in our Constitution. This same right is found in the Indiana Constitution.1 Yet, that right may be the most polarizing issue debated in today’s society. In the reflection of this, so to speak “hot topic” issue, the Legislature and Congress have enacted ever-changing laws. It is important to stay current with these changes to ensure you are following the law and avoid negative consequences. For example, what happens if someone steals your gun and commits a crime? Are you liable? This blog post covers a recent Indiana Court of Appeals case that addressed these questions, and it ruled that lawful gun owners are immune from civil liability if their gun is stolen and then used to commit a crime.
In Kendall v. Lee2, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s ruling that the Defendant, Lee, was not liable for negligence in failing “to store his gun safely and properly.” In Kendall, the Defendant left his gun in his vehicle in a public parking lot. The vehicle was unlocked, and the gun was left on the seat in plain sight. C.O., a minor child, passed the vehicle, saw the gun, and took it. Later, C.O. was showing the stolen gun to his minor friend, Kendall, when the gun went off, subsequently killing Kendall. Kendall’s Mother brought suit against the Defendant, arguing that Defendant negligently stored his firearm by leaving it in the unlocked car, and therefore was partly at fault for the death. The Defendant filed for summary judgment, arguing that Indiana Code 34-30-20-1 provided him immunity because the gun was stolen. The trial court granted the Defendant’s motion, agreeing that Defendant was immune from liability.
On appeal, Kendall’s Mother argued that Defendant was not liable for the “act” of O.C. in stealing the gun, but was “negligent” in the storage of the gun, which later lead to the crime. In support of her argument, Mother pointed out the Indiana Supreme Court case of Estate of Heck v. Stoffer, where the Court stated gun owners have “to exercise reasonable and ordinary care in the storage and safekeeping of their handgun.” Mother argued that the statute did not apply because Defendant’s liability is not tied to the “acts or omissions of a third party,” namely O.C. Instead, Defendant’s liability is from his own acts, which was a failure to safely store his gun. The Court of Appeals, while noting that Mother had a “creative argument,” found that Defendant was indeed immune from liability. The Court highlights the fact that even though the gun could be stored more safely, it was nevertheless stolen, which is a crime and therefore Lee is immune from liability. In conclusion, the Court of Appeals found that the statute “immunizes Lee from liability both for the acts of C.O. and for his own failure to properly store the gun.”
This case highlights the importance of the ever-changing legal landscape. Knowing the status of developments in the law is the key to avoiding criminal liability, as well as being an engaged citizenry in our participatory system of government This blog post on a key new case was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle all areas of gun law, both criminal and civil, as well as appeals. This blog is written for educational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.